Alumni stories: Building confidence in students from different backgrounds with Denise Amankwah
Denise Amankwah (BA Linguistics 2016) is helping UCL students to build their confidence through the UCL Skills Mentoring Programme.
1 December 2022
University life can be daunting for some, especially if you’re from a background that’s less represented in your chosen course of study or career path. This is an experience that Denise Amankwah (BA Linguistics 2016) can relate to, so she’s now helping others to build their confidence through the UCL Skills Mentoring Programme.
Denise grew up in London, but initially had no knowledge of UCL or Russell Group universities. “I was getting good grades and my friend was applying, so I looked on the university leadership table and put my application in,” she says. “It was a great decision!”
While Denise enjoyed her studies, it was the support she received from her lecturer that really inspired her. She says: “There was a time when I was depressed, but didn’t realise it. My lecturer bonded with me and cared about my background. She suggested I see a counsellor, which hadn’t even crossed my mind. That was so important for me.”
Paying it back
Now in a successful career as a speech and language advisor at I CAN, a children’s communication charity, Denise felt a deep urge to give back to students in a similar position to her. So, when she saw a post about becoming an alumni mentor, she decided to volunteer.
“The signing-up process was smooth,” says Denise. “Although, from the introduction email, I realised my mentee and I weren’t on the same course – I took Linguistics and she studies Russian and History – so I wasn’t initially sure what we would talk about. We actually bonded over both being from under-represented backgrounds. Even though our courses aren’t similar, we have lots in common.”
The UCL Skills Mentoring Programme connects graduates with students, to help students develop skills and professional habits to thrive in any career. In Denise’s case, the monthly half-hour sessions created a space for her mentee to ask questions, develop essential life skills and learn from Denise’s experiences, achievements, and insights.
“I was building her confidence,” says Denise. “I wanted her to see that she is smart, so she doesn’t need to compare herself to other people that might have had a private education or parents that went to university. I also showed her how to job-search and reach out to recruitment officers.”
For Denise, this relationship has also helped her to fine-tune some vital skills she needs in her own career. “I’m interested in supporting those from under-represented backgrounds, so this is another way I can do that. It’s live experience!” She stresses that because the programme isn’t a long-term commitment, it’s great for alumni who are working full-time but still want to give back.
Inspiring students entering the workplace
Denise believes that the relationship between a recent graduate, like her, and a student is an important one, as their life experiences are at a similar point – showing the student that you can thrive after university, even if you’re struggling right now.
She says: “I want students from under-represented backgrounds to make the most out of their time at UCL. Not just the education, but also the networks they can build. I’m still in contact with my lecturers now, and they continue to pass on job openings to me. “Form meaningful connections with those around you and get involved!”
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