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Vivika Martini completed her studies at Highgate in 2020, the same year exams were controversially cancelled for the first time in history due to the Covid pandemic. She worked as a teaching assistant in our DTE department before embarking on her Engineering studies at UCLA in California.

When did you come to Highgate, and what was your experience like as a pupil here?
I came to Highgate in the Junior School and I don’t remember much of my time back then, but the transition into Senior School was great. I remember being so small and nervous in the grand halls yet still excited to explore, and I felt totally at ease making friends.

How would you describe the culture at Highgate?
I think Highgate has a strong culture of “go-getting.” The students work really hard and many are determined to have an impact in either the school or their community. What I loved most was how many diverse student-led societies there are. If you are interested in something, no matter how specific, there is something for you. Teachers are always keen to get involved, support student initiatives and provide resources.

Did you take part in any of the Societies or Committees?
The Environment Committee was a big part of my time at Highgate. I’m very proud of the work we accomplished over the years, from Meat Free Monday, banning single-use plastic water bottles, turning Fast Fashion-Free February into an annual event, to hosting the first-ever Environmental Conference for North London Schools.

What led you to your choice of A levels?
Going into my A levels, I had a strong sense that I wanted to do something related to design or engineering, so I opted for Design Technology and Engineering (DTE), Maths and Physics. This was partly because I had such a great experience doing GCSE DTE and loved the creative free reign I had to solve problems that were important to me, such as climate change and plastic pollution.

Covid happened in the middle of your final year – what impact did this have on your studies and your plans for university?
Covid was definitely a big shock for me, as it was for many. It had a massive impact on my university plans and contributed to my decision to attend UCLA in California. Although it was an incredibly stressful period in my life, I truly believe I came out the other side stronger. I think things happen for a reason, and I’m so happy with where I am.

If you were back at Highgate as a pupil, what advice would you give to yourself?
Be yourself, don’t live by others’ expectations. Try to find something you are really good at or passionate about and make that your unique, identifying factor. Sixth Form can be daunting, especially since you are faced with having to make some big decisions about your life. I strived a lot for academic perfection, and, like many, grades were a big aspect of my identity. This is something I have learnt to leave behind because, as I have discovered whilst being in university, it’s the experiences you have and the impact on the people around you that builds your identity. Something that has helped me immensely is meditation, even 15 minutes a day keeps me calm and puts fears into perspective.

You won several DTE awards when you were a pupil here, what motivated you to take part in competitions?
The DTE staff create an environment where you learn through doing, and they are always finding fun ways to engage pupils in STEM subjects. Mr Thomson, Director of DTE, has been a mentor and his contagious enthusiasm and way of communicating through sound effects and gestures is always something to look forward to!

I was really encouraged to enter competitions such as the MTA and Triumph awards and it was such an incredible surprise to win the Royal Academy of Engineering Award for Exceptional Pupil Achievement. I also had the opportunity to attend the International Youth Forum on Environmental Sustainability in Taipei – I thank the department for such a memorable experience.

Not to mention the amazing facilities that are continually improving, such as new machinery to upcycle any type of plastic which is a fantastic resource for students. There are now more female students and staff in the department than ever before which is such an achievement and something to celebrate.

How did you find being a DTE Teaching Assistant here?
I absolutely loved it! I really appreciated being ‘behind the scenes’ and seeing how much time and care teachers put into making the lessons enjoyable and exciting. It was also nice to experience transitioning from a teacher-student relationship to becoming a colleague and friend.

You’re now studying at UCLA in California – tell us more about the course, why you decided to go abroad and how you have found living away from home?
What I love most about studying in the US is that it gives me a more holistic approach to my studies and allows me to explore many more of my interests. For example, I was able to take an oceanography class and collect data in Marina del Rey. This inspired me to spend my summer as a Marine and Coral Reef Conservation Research Intern. It was one of the best experiences of my life and made me realise how much I love fieldwork and marine conservation.

Engineering solutions to environmental problems was the motivation behind my choice to study Mechanical Engineering, but my experience with conservation diving has made me consider changing my major to Environmental Science with a minor in Environmental Engineering. This is the joy of studying at a US university – I have the freedom to explore and the flexibility to change.

And last but not least, what’s Highgate’s best-kept secret?
For me, it would be the cushioned seats by the window in the library. It was my favourite spot to read, do homework and sneak a nap during breaks!