Twins Ana Bela Lima and Ana Paula Lima, and younger sister Carla Moreno Lima share the challenges they overcame in their journeys to success as recent Engineering graduates

"We empower each other, we feed off each other - and we grow together"

Twins Ana Bela Lima (BEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering, 2021) and Ana Paula Lima (BEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering, 2021), and younger sister Carla Moreno Lima (BSc (Hons) Product Design, 2021) graduated together last summer. We met up with them to hear about the challenges they overcame on their journey to success.

If you're looking for a story that exemplifies how LSBU supports students to realise their potential - and shows exactly what our values look like when they are brought to life - then look no further than the Lima sisters.

Smart, dedicated and focused, on the face of it it's no surprise that they've achieved so much - Carla graduated last summer with a 2:1, while twins Ana Bela and Ana Paula both gained firsts. But dig a little deeper and you'll find that all three girls have had to overcome considerable odds to get where they are today.

"We were born in Portugal," explains Carla. "Our mother came here during the economic crisis of 2005 because she wanted to give us a chance of a better life." Initially, the girls - including two older sisters, both of whom are now pursuing graduate careers - stayed behind while their mother, who spoke no English, took on cleaning jobs to raise money and establish a home for them in the UK.

Even nearly 15 years on, it's clear that the girls' own early experiences in the UK have stayed with them. "We didn't speak any English," says Ana Bela. "We were put into the lowest sets for everything. It was pretty clear to us that we were not expected to succeed."

But the girls were brought up to believe that, where there's a will, there's a way, and they certainly weren't lacking in determination. Led by the example set by their mother - "a true warrior, our inspiration,"  says Ana Bela - they learned the language and threw themselves into their studies, eventually ranking in the top 10 students in their school for GCSE and A-Level results. "It's about having that growth mindset," says Ana Paula. "You've got to believe that you can achieve your goals, and just focus on improving all the time."

From having been a distant dream, university slowly but surely emerged as a realistic prospect. For the twins, the decision to study mechanical engineering was born out of a natural aptitude for and love of science - but also a determination to break down barriers and challenge preconceptions.

"We really wanted to push back against the gender stereotypes and fixed ideas about what women are and aren't supposed to do," says Ana Paula. Ana Bela agrees. "There are five boys on the other side of our family and we saw the kind of jobs they were doing, using maths and physics and those kind of subjects. It makes you think, why can't I be doing that as well? We decided we were going to disrupt the pattern."

Ana Bela and Ana Paula initially applied to another London university and started their studies there. "I'll admit, when I was first applying I was very much influenced by rankings," says Ana Bela. "Teachers would say things like, make sure you get into a Russell Group university if you can. But that doesn't always lead you to make the decision that is right for you."

Both girls realised they needed a more supportive environment - and that's exactly what they found at LSBU, along with a vibrant, diverse community that they believed profoundly enriched their experience. "Here at LSBU they're not looking for students with three A*s, they're looking for your desire to learn," says Ana Bela. "Students are really encouraged to ask questions, to get engaged and involved. It's a fantastic place to learn."

For Carla, the experience has been similarly positive. "Seeing my sisters at university, that really set the path for me. When I came to LSBU for a tour, I felt immediately that this was a place I could develop and progress, and where the staff really cared about what I had to offer."

Since graduating, all three girls have been focused on keeping their skills up to date and gaining experience where they can, as well as applying for jobs in what's proving to be a tough post-pandemic environment. "It's very competitive at the moment," says Ana Bela. You've got people coming back into the workplace from furlough and they've got a lot more experience. And it can be hard not to get a bit of imposter syndrome when you're up against people who went to Cambridge or wherever. But you've just got to keep going."

For Ana Bela and Ana Paula, that persistence has now paid off, with both girls recently accepting roles as trainee software engineers with Bright Network. Carla is hoping to gain experience in industry before eventually setting up her own business designing products that tackle major global challenges - the effects of climate change for example, or period poverty.

As well as establishing their careers, giving back is high on the agenda for all three sisters. "My purpose in life is to try and impact as many people as I can," says Ana Bela. "I've being going into schools to talk about engineering. Showing students that I did it builds that trust, that belief that they can do it too." Ana Paula agrees. "I'm here today because of the people that went before me and paved the way. Now I'd like to do the same for someone else in the future."

Unsurprisingly, graduation was a family affair. "Everyone was there, cheering us on," says Ana Paula. "There were a lot of tears. It was an amazing experience." For Ana Bela, the challenges of the pandemic made the day even sweeter. "We all started on this journey as a group, then we spent so much time apart. It was really wonderful crossing the finish line together again."

Looking back at their achievements, all three girls agree that the credit lies with one key figure: their indomitable mother, who underwent several major surgeries during their studies. "When our mum was in the hospital recovering, the staff were like, she's a cleaner and she's raised five graduates! She really is amazing!" says Ana Bela. "She taught us that if you have confidence, you can do anything," says Ana Paula.

But don't underestimate the power of the sibling bond, too. Do they ever find it claustrophobic, following such similar paths and being together for so much of the time? "Never!" they chorus together. "It's a buddy system. We empower each other, we feed off each other - and we grow together."

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