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Science blog 2018rare rising star2019 says 2018keep dreaming no one knows what the future holds2019

An Oxford University graduate named as one of the UK’s top black students has news for those that believe people are born smart. Revealing that you don’t necessarily have to be gifted to succeed in life, and with hard work and determination there is hope for us all – even underachievers.

Gladys Ngetich, Rhodes Scholar and Aerospace Engineering DPhil Student in the Department of Engineering, was recently named as one of the ‘UK Top 10 Rare Rising Stars’ of 2018.

Now in its tenth year, Rare Rising Stars is a celebration of the achievements of the UK's best black students. The judging panel included: Sophie Chandauka, Trevor Phillips OBE and Jean Tomlin OBE.

In addition to being recognised as a Rare Rising Star, Gladys’ time at Oxford has been memorable. Highlights include: registering a patent in collaboration with Rolls Royce Plc, being interviewed by BBC Science and also being awarded the ASME IGTI Young Engineer Turbo Expo Participation Award, which resulted in her presenting a paper at the annual American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) conference.

However, despite her significant achievements, many would be surprised to know that Gladys has not always been so academically gifted. Born in Amalo, a small village in Kenya, she once performed so badly in the national Primary School exam (the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education - KCPE) that she struggled to find a High School (school age 14-18 years old) that would accept her.

She credits her mother as a key support in encouraging her to continue her education and follow her dream of becoming an Aerospace Engineer. It was this determination that motivated her to reverse the situation, and subsequently graduate from High School with the highest grades of any student in her district.

She then won a James Finlay Scholarship which enabled her to pursue her undergraduate degree (a BSc in Mechanical Engineering) at Kenya's top engineering university - Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), graduating with distinction in 2015, winning several awards along the way and setting the scene for her hard-earned path to Oxford.

Of selecting Gladys as part of the Rare Rising Stars top 10, a Rare Recruitment spokesperson, said: ‘Rare Rising Stars like Gladys personify Rare's philosophy: that a person's ethnic or socio-economic background should not determine their future. It's important that elite universities like Oxford have recognised that too.’

Rare Recruitment also created and run Target Oxbridge, the programme that helps high-achieving black students gain places at top British universities, which recently announced plans to expand dramatically with support from Oxford University. A spokesperson for Rare Recruitment, said: ‘Having both Oxford and Cambridge's strong support for Rare's Target Oxbridge programme really demonstrates to young black school children across the country that the sky is the limit. Applications open for Target Oxbridge for talented black Year 12s this autumn - I hope that potential candidates can take inspiration from the achievements of our Rare Rising Stars.’

Gladys herself was overcome with emotion upon hearing the news that she had placed on the list, and explains: ‘I must confess that I have not recovered from mixed feelings of excitement and disbelief. I come from a very humble background and I have had to navigate a lot of challenges to get to where I am. Thus, this award means a lot to me. My hope is that it will inspire students with humble backgrounds like mine’.

A heartfelt Facebook post written after she received the award, that outlines her journey so far and includes words of encouragement to others like her, has received over 2000 comments, 8000 likes and almost 2000 shares, to date.

Gladys’ commitment to inspiring others, particularly young women like her, runs throughout everything she does. In April 2018, she was awarded the Skoll World Forum Fellowship as a budding inspirational social entrepreneur, and she is co-founder and CEO of the ILUU Organisationin Nairobi which mentors and inspires girls from rural parts of Kenya. She has also been shortlisted for the McKinsey & Company Next Generation Women Leaders Award.

Intent on encouraging the next generation of female engineers, Gladys served on the EngineerGirl Markers Panel and she is currently working with the Beyond Boundaries Project and IF Oxford Science Festival to organise exciting initiatives aimed at raising the profile of black women in engineering.

Her advice to others that aspire to reach and even exceed their potential is simple: ‘keep going, keep stretching beyond your comfort zone, and keep dreaming because no one knows what the future holds.’