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Meet Sophie Tew, the Leeds fresher invited to the House of Lords as one of the ten best students in the country

She is basically the definition of a girl boss

Sophie Tew, a Leeds first-year English and Social Policy student, has spent her year not just succeeding in academically, but excelling.

So much so Sophie was shortlisted for the acclaimed upReach Ten Award, which is in recognition of her outstanding work promoting female empowerment in the city and even involved a visit to The House of Lords where she mixed with other nominees.

Sophie, who rose from a working-class background to become the president of President of Women In Leadership Soc, told The Leeds Tab: "I was shortlisted for The UpReach Ten, awarded to 'the ten students who have achieved, or have the highest potential to achieve, outstanding success academically, professionally and/or personally.

"This might be demonstrated by resilience, determination or initiative, participation in work experience or internship programmes, by the attainment of significant leadership roles at university or by efforts made to boost employability in unique and innovative ways."

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She confessed: "I know from first-hand experience just how tough it can be to come from a working-class background to feel like you’re surrounded by people can’t relate. Far too many students from working-class backgrounds still struggle to get placed at the most elite universities, and even those that do find they have another mountain to climb when it comes to getting a graduate job in their professions. My advice is persevering and being resilient."

Sophie continued: "I don’t think emotional resilience can be taught, so when you go through difficult experiences the ability to bounce back is so important. It’s important to your mental health and your success. I always attempt to make something positive out of struggle. Tell yourself that your struggles are actually your biggest advantage. Bounce back and enjoy the outcome."

She then shared how she was shocked to share the stage with students from globally recognised universities such as Oxford and Harvard, saying: "It was such a shock to be placed in the same category as social mobility champions studying at Oxford and Harvard and other great unis. I’m really grateful for my friends and family for nominating me, and proud of myself for preserving in difficult times."

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Sophie wants to inspire others like herself to grow from the hard times and push yourself into a university, or a position which you may never have thought was possible: "As challenging as Presidency can be, I wouldn’t change it. The personal growth in the last year is astonishing before I was President I was terrified of speaking in front of a group of 20 people, now I’ve addressed lecture theatres of students.

"My part in the society has allowed me to pitch in fancy glass boardrooms in London and meet with firms to discuss initiatives to empower students irrespective of their gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status. I didn’t think I’d ever step foot in a boujee boardroom never mind be invited head office’s as a first-year undergraduate.

"Being a part of WILS and working alongside such motivating people like ex-President Rebecca McCaw has been so important to me. Surround yourself with inspiring people and your life can change, as cliché as that is. WILS allows me to make progress on the big questions like how can we encourage women to pursue male-dominated, old boy network type fields? And what initiatives can we implement to achieve our aims? I’m pleased that my contribution to women’s empowerment has been recognised"."

Throughout her day in The House of Lords, Sophie mixed with nationally recognised speakers and other nominees, some of which grew from a less privileged background and made a name for themselves against the odds.

"The event itself was quite overwhelming," she said, " I spent the day at the UpReach HQ meeting the other students shortlisted and listening to their stories and, of course, adding each other on LinkedIn. A professor from University College London came to speak to me during the event to ask me about certain aspects of my research into widening participation and the podcast I’m producing, so that felt great.

Perhaps the most memorable memory for Sophie, however, involved a similar story of success: "A few days before the event I was chatting with a friend about the guy who was knocking on doors around a posh area in London to find out how the owners became wealthy, preparing with a rehearsed pitch and a smile. Little did I know I’d meet Reggie Nelson a few days later as he hosted the awards alongside KCL student Fatima Benkhald. I was amazed and truly inspired to hear his story in person from school exclusions to landing a top job in investment banking."

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Sophie has strong words for people who believe they do not have what it takes to secure a place at university or hold down a job in a prestigious company, as she proves it is possible, no matter where you are from: "Studies have shown that men are more likely than women to apply for a job with requires more experience/qualifications that they actually have, my advice applies to everything and anything. Insight days, internships, placements, positions on society committees. You never know what can happen.

"93 per cent of the student population are state educated, when you compare that to Universities which have a small minority of state educated students it is quite shocking, so be proud of yourself."

For those who are inspired by Sophie's story, you could not have picked a better city to study and work in, as she praised the city for offering a helping hand in success: "Leeds is the new northern powerhouse, it’s overflowing with opportunity. The six local authorities that make up the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, the councils of Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds, Wakefield and York, are all led by female political leaders or Chief Executives. We are leading by example". You too can get involved with the work of the Women In Leadership Soc and hear Sophie speak at The Empower Conference on the 20th February in the Riley Smith Theatre.

The Tab's 10x Campaign on fairness in uni admissions is named after how much more likely privileged students are to progress to a top uni. If you want to contribute to The Tab's 10x Campaign with a personal story or news tip, please email [email protected].