CYPRIAN NJAMMA: CELEBRATING BLACK EXCELLENCE AT OXFORD
Then: Mansfield College (2001), MPhys Physics
Now: Director and Actuary in Asset management
When you look back at your time at Oxford what stands out most?
I had four wonderful years at Oxford, but three things really stand out in my mind. Firstly the lectures, I have always enjoyed learning, and being exposed to some of the brightest minds in my field was a big deal for me. Secondly, the social life, I made lifelong friends, and particularly loved the sporting life. As quite a sporty person I got involved in a lot – squash, football, rowing – you name it, I was there.
Finally – and this is quite a weird one, finding good fried plantains in Oxford was unexpected and a wonderful part of my whole experience, that helped me to feel at home.
Why did you choose Oxford?
I was brought up to believe that getting a good education was the quickest way to have the brightest future. I was also taught to strive for the best, and I felt Oxford was, and still is the best university in the world, and I wanted it to be a part of my journey.
Did diversity - or perhaps a lack of it affect your experience?
In terms of the amount of black people applying to the University in general, Oxford does have a diversity problem. But, it wasn’t really a big factor in my experience. The lecturers and students were welcoming and there was a lot to get involved with.
Access and diversity are extremely important in higher education, and Oxford to be more precise. I attended the Oxford access summer school, and believe that higher education helps with social mobility. It has been part of my journey, and was one of the best decisions for me. I had only been in the UK for two years and met other students participating from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. It encouraged me to apply. To believe, and I got the offer to study.
I know of a lot of black brilliant minds out there. It’s important to encourage them to apply to one of the best universities in the world, and to go to university in general. Because again, it is one of the surest ways of having a brighter future and inspiring the next generation.
I know the University is doing its best to raise awareness and encourage Black and brown kids to apply in the first place, but I think we have to continue to push on that.
How did Oxford prepare you for the real world?
Without question being exposed to one of the best universities in the world and some of the brightest minds, really gave me the confidence to go out there and push for a demanding, rewarding career.
I work in asset management, providing investment advice to different companies looking to develop their assets. The work varies from complex calculation research, to analysis and finally, communicating all of this to investors of varying expertise. The one to one tutorial system at Oxford really helped me to communicate effectively, and to provide rationale and justification for my work. Physics as a subject helped from a problem solving perspective, giving me the mathematical grounding and rigor of my profession.
What do you like most about your role now?
I enjoy the communication side of things - meeting clients, helping them to solve their problems and make decisions. A lot of the background work is quite complex, and being able to translate that simply with results is really satisfying for me.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
It’s very important to me. Unfortunately every time we talk about Black history it often focuses on struggle and slavery. But, for me, while it is important to remember those things, it is essential to celebrate black excellence and black achievement in general.
When you think of Black excellence who do you think of?
There are a couple of people who define black excellence for me. The first being my mum, she lost my father in her thirties, and pretty much had to raise four kids on her own. So she really worked hard to get us to Britain to provide a brighter future for us. Secondly, the black female scientist called Maggie Ebunoluwa Aderin-Pocock MBE, she is a science communicator, a space scientist and an inspiration for any girl, boy, or child, studying science. She is an amazing woman and an inspiration.
What are you most proud of in your life?
The one thing I am most proud of in my life is my daughter. She is almost four now, extremely curious and pretty much asks 50-100 questions a day. As a physicist I think I am well positioned to answer her questions, but even I struggle sometimes. I am looking forward to how she will grow, and I am hoping some day she will turn out to be a scientist.
Facebook: Onyemachi Cyprian Njamma
Celebrating black legacy at Oxford
Thanks to a media fascination with the days of Oxbridge past, Oxford’s longstanding diversity problems are well documented. To a lesser degree, so are the University’s increasing efforts to encourage applications from students from under-represented backgrounds, and build a more inclusive environment in general.
But what of the black and minority ethnic students who do successfully gain a place at Oxford University? Beyond the click-bait headlines Oxford has forged a connection to something much more powerful, and worthy of celebration; black excellence.
In recent years, Oxford has made strides towards addressing the University’s student body imbalance, and is currently attracting more black and minority ethnic students than ever before (18.3%) as a result.
Launched in 2017, the Oxford Black Alumni Network connects hundreds of black Oxford graduates with peers from across the generations. Through these connections and sharing their achievements, the platform allows them to be power players in the University’s legacy, future, and access to higher education in general. For current and aspiring Oxford students, their experiences are an encouraging appeal to dream bigger, achieve their goals and follow in their footsteps.
In recognition of Black History Month and the legacy of black achievement at the University, members of the Black Alumni Network share their Oxford stories.