Alumni profile - Chipo Meke
I learnt a lot about Los Angeles during the Urban Futures: Los Angeles and Las Vegas module. It was truly eye-opening understanding the history of blue vs white collar workers and also issues such as environmental racism – I had never heard of this before. This was very far removed from the glitz and glamour I had imagined in LA and it became a reality as our lecturer walked us through Skid Row.
What influenced your decision to study Geography with Business Management at Queen Mary? What modules did you enjoy learning about and was there anything that surprised you in your studies? I really loved my Geography classes in secondary school, and it felt like a natural step when I was completing my A Levels as it was the one subject I consistently enjoyed. I completed my Business Studies A Level in year 12 and when I was applying for university courses, I noticed a number of courses that had the opportunity to study both. My school actually visited Queen Mary as part of a school trip before I was applying for universities and I really liked the diversity of the students and teachers.
I liked the flexibility offered with a joint honours degree as this enabled me to select a mixture of both human and physical geography modules. I loved the modules which had field trips, of course, but it was also really interesting learning about the history of the places beforehand – I learnt a lot about Los Angeles during the Urban Futures: Los Angeles and Las Vegas module. It was truly eye-opening understanding the history of blue vs white collar workers and also issues such as environmental racism – I had never heard of this before. This was very far removed from the glitz and glamour I had imagined in LA and it became a reality as our lecturer walked us through Skid Row. The field trips were also a great opportunity to meet other course mates outside of the lecture halls and develop relationships! I also enjoyed modules such as Geographical Information Systems as this helped in developing my interest in working with software and this has probably influenced my role working in Tech today!
During your degree, were there any modules that allowed you to explore areas of your heritage? If yes, how important was it to you to learn about areas of your own cultural history? If no, do you think this was a missed opportunity? I was able to explore areas of my heritage during the Urban Futures: Los Angeles and Las Vegas and Boston Reworked: The Making of a North American City modules. The modules both explored the treatment of African Americans throughout history in these cities – learning about the Watts Riots and Martin Luther King. We actually got to visit museums, like the California African American Museum on both trips that were dedicated to learning about this. During the field trip in Boston, our lecturer had actually scheduled for us to visit the archaeological excavation at the house that MLK grew up in – unfortunately the snow was so heavy it was cancelled! As a student of Black heritage, it was very important for me as a lot of the history I learnt at school focused on predominantly White history (World War etc.) so this was a really great opportunity to learn about something else that wasn’t about slavery!
What was special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments or favourite places on campus? I had a great (and dysfunctional) tutorial group who were all studying the joint honours degree with me and we shared a bond of helping each other out in keeping up with various deadlines. One of the most memorable moments was our first mandatory field trip in our first year for the Reinventing Britain module where we stayed at Durham University for a week. It was a really cold and miserable week for the weather, but it was really nice getting to know my group of friends more. There was one drunken night out at the world’s worst club in Europe where my chips from the kebab got stolen on the way home… One of the girls from my tutorial group confessed in our final year that she stole them from me as she helped me get home!
Can you describe your career path up to date and touch on your current role? What does a typical working day look like for you? I secured a graduate scheme role to work in Management Consulting whilst I was finishing my degree and started the following October. The scheme was three years long as this largely consisted of working for a variety of clients – usually away from home 4 days a week in luxurious places (read: Derby, Slough etc.). The work was focused on helping to transform back-office Finance functions to make them more efficient.
I was promoted in October last year to an Assistant Manager role and I have spent the last year working in a new team, Digital Transformation, helping KPMG to deploy and adopt new M365 tools and technologies which has been a big challenge! In this role there isn’t a typical working day as the priorities constantly change and it’s about digging in where help is needed – running firmwide training sessions, liaising with Microsoft to deliver training, putting together strategic documents etc.
How and when did you decide to pursue a career in the financial sector? It wasn’t really a conscious decision, but I was fairly set on working as a Management Consultant from my second year of university and the Big Four have plenty of roles within this space.
What does Black History Month mean to you and how will you be acknowledging it this year? It’s an opportunity to not only acknowledge the trauma that Black people have faced and continue to face throughout history, but also to celebrate our many talents that can sometimes seem to be forgotten. This year I have spent a lot of time highlighting many causes or movements that are impacting Black people like End SARS, but I have also spent time watching documentaries on Black history or reading Black literature.
Are there any Black historical figures you wish more people knew about? There are so many but the one area that is definitely forgotten about are Black female inventors who brought us items like the hairbrush (Lynda D. Newman), adjustable sanitary belts (Mary Kenner), and home security systems (Marie van Brittan Brown).
Which books or films by Black authors/directors do you think everyone needs to read/watch? I highly recommend Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. This book is a great opportunity to learn about the history of Black people in the UK.
Based on your own time at university, is there anything you feel that Queen Mary can do to improve the university experience for Black students? That’s an interesting question as I think Queen Mary was a really diverse university – I didn’t feel ‘outcast’ or uncomfortable whilst I was there compared to some of the other London universities when I went for open days. It would be great to see more Black lecturers or senior teachers as this was one of the things that was missing during my time.
Do you have any role models that you look up to, both inside and outside of your field? I don’t really have any specific role models as I haven’t really seen many senior Black women within my field which is tough. However, it is inspiring to follow the TLA – Black Women in Tech page on LinkedIn which showcases Black female talent in Technology daily which is really uplifting and inspirational for future career options.
What are your aspirations for your career going forwards? I would really love to work in a Tech company, specifically SaaS (Software as a Service), as there are so many opportunities to get stuck in and develop your skills! I think Tech companies tend to have a younger workforce as well and that can be very motivating in seeing how you can progress and be successful at a very a young age. I think technology is the future of the world and you can’t really go wrong in this space with the variety of roles available.
Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates interested in studying Geography/Business Management or working in the financial sector? With studying Geography/Business Management, I would really recommend taking the opportunities to go on field trips as you can learn so much from these experiences. One small regret I had was not taking the opportunity to study abroad – so if you do have the chance, you should strongly consider this. I’d also say, don’t worry too much about needing to do a specific type of degree as many graduate schemes just want you to have a degree, as long as you achieve a 2:1 or above!
If you are interested in working the financial/professional services sector, start early; get involved in those summer/vacation schemes if you can and make sure you have some sort of work experience. It’s all well and good having a degree but if you don’t have any experience or transferrable skills, you will struggle to compete against others who do – experience trumps everything!
This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Nathalie Grey. If you would like to get in touch with Chipo or engage her in your work, please contact Nathalie at firstname.lastname@example.org.