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I am not usually the type of person who applies for awards. However, when the opportunity presented itself, I decided to put myself forward as a contestant as I believe my story through education is somewhat unique and made me a strong candidate. I found out about the undergraduate of the year award from an email sent by my university’s careers department and decided to explore the UGOTY’s website. I aligned my choice of award with my degree – mechanical engineering – as this is the area I know best.

The application process is broken down into three stages. The first stage is where you must complete various online tests and submit essays. I really enjoyed the essays because sustainability and modular homes are subjects that I have a keen interest in, so I had a lot to write about. We also had to complete ethics and intellect tests. Once these were submitted there was then a month’s wait until I received a response back saying I had been shortlisted to go to Dartford for interviews for the second round.

The second round was exceptionally stressful because, having very little money and not being able to afford a hotel, I had to travel from Manchester to Kent in the morning for 10.00am. Because of this, I arrived 20 minutes late which I thought would have ruled me out. However, I rang up in advance to let them know and they were absolutely fine with it. There were two parts to the day – the teamwork challenge and the presentation and interview. The first part was the hardest as we had to sit in front of two judges and, in teams of four contestants, decided on a part of the brief to put forward. I believe my advantage was the fact I had researched in advance the current trends in the industry and used my knowledge on DfMA (design for manufacture and assembly) assets to successfully push my case. The second part involved sitting down in front of an executive and presenting my case as to why I was the undergraduate of the year and then being asked questions. I found this part somewhat easier as it was more of an informal chat and the interviewer was nice.

Anxiously, I would check my emails every day to see if I’d received a response. After travelling so far and trying my absolute best I was really hoping to make it through to the top 10. On the Tuesday afternoon I received the email from Laing O’Rourke – I had made it through to the final. I was so excited and over the moon that my efforts had paid off. It was the first time I’d ever felt this elated and it was at this point I felt like I had a true chance at winning. I told my sisters who were extremely proud of me and got to the shops to buy the clothes for the event.

The wait to the final was extremely tense. I genuinely didn’t think I was going to win, but that didn’t stop me from getting excited. No matter the outcome I was going to treat this as a learning experience. I had already booked my hotel and train tickets. I was ready. I left the day before and arrived with enough time to explore London. I managed to go to the Science and History Museum and see the London Eye for the first time. In the evening I decided to call it an early night as I was worn out after the travelling and sightseeing. Consequently, the next day I woke up early and got ready – I had stayed in a halls room at the London School of Economics. I packed my things up and left bright and early and travelled by tube towards Canary Wharf.

The final and most exciting stage was the awards ceremony in Canary Wharf. The event was hosted at East Wintergarden, an architect’s dream where we were served expensive white wine and canapés. I had never experienced anything like that up until that point so it was all a bit new to me; I was trying to follow people’s lead as I am somewhat uneducated on the social etiquette at a place this posh – my version of fine dining is spag bowl with a bottle of cheap red wine on a Friday night. After having time to mingle with the other contestants and some company executives, we were called to the tables for lunch. The food was really nice and boojie. It was nice just being able to chill out and get to know people while enjoying nice food. After eating, it was time for the awards ceremony. The room went silent with anticipation.

There were 14 categories for the competition this year, and each one was announced in order. Rachel Riley first started by reading out a list of the top ten candidates for each award and then announced the winner. Before each winner was announced there was a long pause to build anticipation, and when my name came up, I couldn’t believe it. All of a sudden there was a spotlight on me, and my face was up on the big screen. I trekked all the way over to the stage where I was given my award. I got a photo with Rachel Riley and an executive of Laing O’Rourke. I was so surprised and stunned I didn’t know what was happening. I couldn’t believe that I’d won as I was a first year – I felt so happy.

The entire competition was certainly a learning experience. I’ve never been in such a competitive race and it has really given me a confidence boost. One of the things I was worried about is the fact I am so unpolished and inexperienced compared to most of the other applicants – I don’t have family connections in the industry, and I didn’t go to Oxbridge. From feedback from the judges, what really made me stand out was my eagerness to improve my life and my ability to think logically when given a task. Not only would I recommend that everyone apply, but I would also suggest it’s not all about showing engineering/academic material, it’s more about your holistic approach to education and why you have the most potential. I am so thankful to Laing O’Rourke and TARGETjobs for the opportunity to take part in this competition.