International Women's Day 2023: Our Inspirational Alumni


We’re delighted to boast an incredible alumni community, including many inspirational women excelling in their chosen industries. This International Women's Day, we’re looking back at some of the great successes from our talented graduates in the past year.

Shona Brownlee

After competing in the Winter Paralympics in Beijing, we caught up with alumna Shona Brownlee to find out about her incredible life and career. Shona graduated in BMus (Hons) from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire before joining the RAF’s Central Band.  

But after getting injured, Shona’s life was changed forever and after spending six years on crutches, Shona made the difficult decision to have her leg amputated in 2018. Whilst at a rehabilitation centre, Shona was invited to go on a skiing trip, where she fell in love with the sport.

With support from the RAF and being accepted onto their Elite Athlete Scheme, which meant that she was able to temporarily leave the Central Band to train full-time, Shona decided to take skiing more seriously and was keen to compete as a Para Alpine Skier.

After competing in her first international race in 2019, Shona soon made it into Team GB, and was able to compete in the Winter Paralympics in 2022.

Read Shona's story

Rhianna Levi

Rhianna graduated from BCU with an MEd in Education in 2022, and is now also completing her Doctor of Education qualification at BCU too.

Alongside her studies, Rhianna also became the Worcestershire Poet Laureate and has since published her own book of poetry!

Danielle Pinnock

Danielle graduated from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire with an MA in Acting in 2012 and is now a main cast member on the CBS series Ghosts. Last month, she even attended the Grammys!

Kattiea Devereux-Ward

Media Production alumna Kattiea won Best Podcast Programming at the Student Radio Awards 2022. She created her podcast ‘Women Behind the Wheel’ as a two-part documentary for her major project in her final year at BCU.

Women Behind the Wheel, which was broadcast on Scratch Radio, is about women in motorsports, highlighting the lack of diversity and the issues that women face in the industry, as well as showcasing the companies and people who are making positive changes.

Find out more

Samantha Oxborough 

Samantha, who graduated in Vocal Studies from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in 2017 before completing a postgraduate qualification in the same subject, was selected to sing the National Anthem at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.

The alumna sang alongside the CBSO and the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Mass Choir, which was a 700 strong choir made up of different choirs from across the city.

Shaherazad Umbreen

BCU alumna and current Brand and Marketing Director at the National Trust Shaherazad returned to BCU in January to collect her Honorary Doctorate for her commitment to business and philanthropy!

Nicola Coughlan

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire alumna Nicola Coughlan has become a household name thanks to her fantastic roles in the likes of Derry Girls and Bridgerton.

Nicola is now set to lead in Channel 4’s new comedy ‘Big Mood’, which will explore female friendship and mental health.

Aimee Paterson

Child Nursing Alumna Aimee was thanked for her incredible work in a TikTok video which went viral. The alumna discovered a video by a parent thanking her for her work at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

Natalie Ridler, from Swansea, was in Birmingham with her son, Morgan, who was in intensive care after having surgery to remove a tumour. After discovering what Aimee did to help her son, she soon took to social media to say thank you.

Read more

Journalism Stars

Several BCU graduates have been shortlisted in the Regional Press Awards, including Anisah Vasta, who graduated with a BA (Hons) in English and Journalism, Aida Fofana, who graduated with an MA in Journalism, and Jane Haynes, who graduated from BCU with an MA in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism.

Find out more

Melita Berg

Visual Communication alumna Melita, who graduated in 2016, now works as a Lettering and Mural Artist, as well as a Graphic Designer. Last year, she was chosen to attend BCU’s Westminster event, where we highlighted the important role universities like ours play in shaping the creative arts sector and its workforce.

Jennifer Smyth

BCU Alumna Jennifer, who was paralysed in a ‘freak accident’, is now learning to walk again.

Jennifer, who graduated with a BA (Hons) in Product Design in 2019, was a competitive gymnast until she was 16 years old, when she was injured whilst practising for an upcoming competition season.

Jennifer is now determined to walk again, and last year, she was able to hold a standing position by herself for the first time. She now has big plans for the future and is keen to inspire others that life isn’t over after a Spinal Cord injury.

Read Jennifer's story

Fashion Stars

After the success of our Catwalk: BCU in Digbeth event which celebrated the talents of our graduates from BCU’s Institute of Jewellery, Fashion and Textiles, Harvey Nichols chose a collection of work by graduates Rong Cherry Xing, Leia Groom, Jayd Cousins, Abigail Buckland and Sophie Vincent for their window display!

Salma Bi

Salma, who graduated in Adult Nursing in 2009, was selected as a Commonwealth Games Hometown Hero after establishing herself as a grassroots cricket champion.

Alongside being a Hometown Hero, Salma was also able to be a Baton Bearer at Small Heath Park just a day before the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony.

Read Salma's story

Dr Samia La Virgne

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire alumna Samia became the first School of Acting graduate to be awarded a Doctorate in 2022.

Samia is the first graduate with a PhD Performing Arts with an emphasis on Acting, with all prior PhDs awarded by the Conservatoire being music based.

The alumna successfully presented her practice research thesis titled ‘Lust and Disgust: Reimagining Injurious Representations and Experiences of Black Actresses in the U.K. and the U.S.’

It was the first interdisciplinary PhD through the Centre for Interdisciplinary Performative Arts (CIPA) in collaboration with Black Studies and the School of English.

Billie Lewery and Chloe Broxton

BCU graduates Billie and Chloe joined forces to create a theatre production and digital toolkit to help people spot the early signs of radicalisation.

Billie Lewery, who graduated in 2022 with a degree in Applied Theatre (Community and Education), worked alongside Chloe Broxton, who completed her degree in Criminology, Policing, and Investigation in 2018.

The duo even appeared on BBC One’s Crimewatch to discuss the project.

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