DPhil student Mary Adeyemo is the recipient of a Highly Commended Vice Chancellor's Diversity Award 2022 and the Oxford SU 2022 Award for Increasing Access.
In this Q&A, Mary reflects on her upbringing, her deeply ingrained sense of justice, and what led her to found CareerCarrierz, a non-profit organisation working to promote education amongst low-income families from Ikorodu, Nigeria.
Tell us about the experience of winning the award
Undeniably, winning the Oxford SU Awards for Increasing Access still feels surreal. My desire to increase access came with the passion to help people who not only look like me, but have had limitations in one capacity or the other accessing quality education. Further, it was humbling to see the great work other students are putting in to make our University, the University of Oxford, accessible and diversified to anyone irrespective of their background or station in life. Hence, I believe it is a win for all of us. Ubuntu – I am because we are!
Looking at your non-profit CareerCarrierz, what sort of results are you seeing?
In my considered opinion, I think results may not always be seen. Nonetheless, I think they can be felt. Altogether, I think we are achieving our primary aim, seeing many people from some of the most disadvantaged backgrounds having a shift in their orientation. We are continually seeing those who never thought themselves worthy of higher education at all now seeking it, and even applying to top universities in the world. We have had some of our attendees/mentees get admissions and even scholarships in tens of thousands of pounds in institutions home and abroad. This is beyond fulfilling. However, we will not rest on our horses. Further, I see how many who were utterly confused are now taking baby (elephant) steps with the help of mentors who have trod similar paths. Indeed, the seemingly most inconsequential steps are actually the major ones.
Ultimately, I feel the joy people have seeing their potential and achieving their set goals through our webinars and mentorship programmes. That is the biggest result.
Where did your passion for this sort of activism come from?
This is rather internal than external. My activism and advocacy earned me the name “democracy” in high school. I was just always the girl in the classroom who stood up for herself even with my rather petite size at the time. Soon enough, I stood up for others too and not just among students, but teachers and other staff, if the need ever arose.
This in addition to the apparent limitations set by upbringing, socio-economic status, nationality and other stakeholders set me on this path. Whether it is before teachers or lawmakers, the standard is the same – everyone deserves equal chances and opportunities at justice, education, and everything else.
What motivated you to do this particular work?
My desire to see everyone who had the potential to dream, witness the reality of their dreams inspires me to do work on access and inclusion. Further, I have been turned down on many occasions and I’ve had doors shut in my face. I want to be the voice in the room for the voiceless, the hope of the hopeless and overall, the “human” that gives everyone the chance they deserve. Life is already “complicated” as it is, and my goal is to do my bit to ease the burden of others.
What was your experience of access to Oxford and any challenges you faced?
I was doing my access work in Oxford without a portfolio. Hence, I initially did not have to deal with procedural or any administrative bureaucracy that may exist. Further, having dealt with the college and even my faculty, I think I have received unflinching support. This is a testament to the University's stance on access and diversity, which is highly commendable.
What’s at the top of your wishlist of changes you’d like to see?
First, let me say the fulcrum of my existence is IMPACT. I am building a chain of impact. I would like to continue to impact as many people as possible and hope that these people pay it forward by impacting others. Further, I would like to see more black and minority groups represented at the University of Oxford not just as students but as members of the faculty. In the near future, I hope to see many, if not all my 12 and 13 year-old mentees taking their seats in tertiary institutions whilst owning their dreams. I am seriously rooting for them and for others like them!
What else do you have planned?
My biggest plan is to keep changing people's lives just as mine has been changed by others. To continually work to expand our reach at CareerCarrierz, we will continue to partner with other organisations with similar interests. We also plan to help many of our students remove their biggest limitation – funding, by partnering with universities all over the globe. Additionally, I plan to create more awareness around Africa about the opportunities available to everyone, within and outside the continent. Bit by bit – the dream will one day become a reality, by the grace of God. Amen.