International Women's Day 2024: 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.

Clair Graham  
Clair left school with no qualifications and a criminal record, but she eventually returned to education, graduating with a BSc (Hons) in Social Work in 2009. Since graduating, Clair has pushed herself to achieve great success, working her way up from a Social Worker at Birmingham City Council to her current role as Head of Service for Contextual Safeguarding at Birmingham Children’s Trust. In 2023, Clair was awarded BCU’s ‘Alumna of the Year’ award, and she continues to inspire people with her extraordinary story.  

In her BCU Alumni Festival Guest Lecture, Clair spoke about her upbringing, how she overcame huge challenges to become the inspiration she is today, as well as what it takes to become a leader and survive in her industry.  

Camilla Whitehill  

Camilla graduated from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire with an Acting degree in 2012, and has since written and created several plays, has written for the comedy series ‘Porters’ and worked with fellow alumna Nicola Coughlan on the comedy podcast ‘Whistle Through the Shamrocks’.  

This year, the comedy series ‘Big Mood’ which she has written and created for Channel 4, will be broadcast. Starring Nicola Coughlan and Lydia West, the six-part series will tell the story of Maggie and Eddie, who have been best friends for a decade, but are discovering if their friendship can survive in a landscape of increased work, life and mental health pressures.  

Maryam Whid 940x400

Maryam Wahid  

Award-winning photography alumna Maryam Wahid has continued to excel in the past year, thanks to her exhibition ‘Dreams of Brum’ commissioned by Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery. ‘Dreams of Brum’ is an exhibition of photographic portraits taking place at Handsworth Library until 31 March 2024. Before moving to the library, the exhibition was shown at Ikon Gallery and was presented as part of The Migrant Festival 2023.  

As well as the exhibition, Maryam has been commissioned by the NHS for their ‘Faces of NHS’ project, and even BCU as part of our Alumni Festival 2023, where she took incredible photos of over 15 talented BCU graduates. As part of the festival, we also interviewed Maryam for an episode in the BCU Alumni Podcast.  

Dr Marcia Shakespeare 

Earlier this year, BCU Alumna and current PhD student Marcia Shakespeare received an Honorary Doctorate from BCU at our Winter Graduation Ceremonies.  

Marcia received her doctorate almost 21 years to the day since her 17-year-old daughter, Letisha, was murdered in Birmingham in 2003 by gang members who fired at random into a crowd, killing Letisha and her friend Charlene.  

Marcia is the founder of the Precious Trust, which aims to create pathways to positive futures for young girls. The charity has supported over 2,000 vulnerable women so far. Marcia has spoken to more than 100,000 young people through events and talks organised by her charity and West Midlands Police. She received her Honorary Doctorate in recognition of her tireless campaigning work.  

On Wednesday 20 March, Marcia will join lifelong friend Clair Graham, also BCU’s Alumna of the Year, at our BCU Alumni Podcast On Tour live recording, where they will tell their inspirational stories as part of Women’s History Month celebrations.  

Book your free ticket

In 2023, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire alumna, classical musician and content creator Esther Abrami released her second studio album ‘Cinema’, featuring a collection of arrangements for violin and orchestra of film and TV scores, classical music from movies, anime hits and new compositions.  

Discover's Esther's career so far

Sophie Marie Bennett 

Sophie is the Founder of Black Owned Birmingham, and she provides vision, leadership and direction to a community of over 50,000 members through her organisation.  

Last year, the alumna received Highly Commended in the ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ award at The Baton Awards, and she won the Community Learning Award at the Diversity Awards in Education, the Best Business Excellence Award at the Street Cred Awards and a Certificate of Recognition in The British Citizen Awards, alongside a whole host of successes with Black Owned Birmingham too.  

Sophie was also showcased in the BCU Alumni Festival 2023, where she spoke to us about her work and what it takes to set-up and run a successful organisation in her Alumni Podcast episode.  

Listen here

Acting alumna Danielle Pinnock’s path to stardom has only got bigger in the past year, with huge success thanks to her role as Alberta in the US adaptation of hit sitcom ‘Ghosts’.  

Earlier this year, she even won a Hollywood Create Alliance (HCA) TV Award for her portrayal, as well as starring in Amazon Prime Christmas film Candy Cane Lane.  

Read more

Haseebah Ali  

Illustration alumna Haseebah Ali has also achieved great success in the past year, working alongside Maryam Wahid on the ‘Dreams of Brum’ exhibition, currently on display at Handsworth Library. Haseebah, who now works as an Artist and Arts Educator, worked with Maryam during a series of creative community workshops 

The exhibition is accompanied by a free activity pack which included creative activities, and questions for thinking and talking about art in relation to other subjects, including global cultures and environments.  

Claire Blake 

Adult Nursing alumna Claire has had an exciting year with the publication of her new book ‘How to Make it as a Student Nurse’, to support those currently studying Nursing. 

Claire was also part of BCU Alumni Festival 2023 and joined us on the Alumni Podcast to talk about her journey from mature student to academic, her passions around community and primary care nursing, as well as sexual health and transgender awareness education.  

Listen now

Illustration alumna Taylor has enjoyed huge success in the past year with her incredible aerial embroidery hoops.  

After going viral thanks to her first ever aerial embroidery, she is now excelling in her creative career and often makes embroidery hoops of wedding venues, homes, farms, holiday destinations and more.  

Read more about her exciting career

Lauren Wood  

Stage Management alumna Lauren Wood joined the ‘Hamilton’ team last summer and is now one of the many faces working hard behind the scenes to bring the multi-award-winning musical to stages across the country in its first UK and Ireland tour.  

Lauren is working as an Assistant Stage Manager and will be part of the team visiting a wide range of venues this year, including the Birmingham Hippodrome, where her Stage Management career began.  

Before working on Hamilton, Lauren worked on the likes of Les Misérables and Grease.  

Find out more

Acting alumna Catherine, known for her roles in Coronation Street, Scarborough and Viewpoint, has enjoyed success in the past year thanks to her role as Kate Woods in Channel 5’s ‘The Good Ship Murder’ and she is also making her musical theatre debut as Blanche Barrow in the first ever UK and Ireland tour of Bonnie and Clyde The Musical.  

Olivia Dias 

Media and Communication alumna Olivia landed a role as a Researcher within the dance team on BBC One’s hit show Strictly Come Dancing in 2023.  

On the show, Olivia played a key role in planning rehearsals, browsing music, and coming up with new ideas, as well as working closely with the professional dancers and producers.  

Find out more about her exciting career

Mercia Jensen  

Alumna Mercia, who graduated with a Nursing BSc (Hons) degree in 2017 before completing a postgraduate certificate in Public Health in 2023, has fought cancer twice and has heart failure, but is now using her experiences to inspire the next generation of health workers.  

Mercia is now a Cancer Research Campaign Ambassador and recently travelled to the Houses of Parliament to hand in a petition for improved cancer treatment.  

Read more

Nicola Coughlan 

Acting alumna Nicola has continued to become Hollywood royalty in the past year, thanks to her role in the biggest movie of the year, Barbie, as well as in The Velveteen Rabbit, her upcoming role in Channel 4’s Big Mood’ and of course, her role of Penelope Featherington in Netflix drama ‘Bridgerton’.  

The upcoming third series of Bridgerton, landing on Netflix in May 2024, will star Nicola as the lead role thanks to the season following her romance with Colin Bridgerton. We can’t wait to see the alumna in her biggest on-screen moments so far! 

Discover Nicola's journey so far

Return to the previous page.