SSMA Blog: upReach Ten Winner Kingstun Nelson Shares His Top Tips for Success

Kingstun Nelson is the first in his family to attend university or live abroad. He is committed to sharing his experiences and inspiring other young people to achieve their goals, and he spent four years as a senior coach and mentor for vulnerable children. He has won multiple awards at the University of Birmingham for his sporting achievements, and has secured a graduate offer from Lloyds Bank.

He was a recipient of the upReach Ten Award at the Student Social Mobility Awards 2018. Here, he shares his tips for success.


My philosophy is ‘to be the best that I can be’, and as cliché as that sounds, it is the exact same philosophy that has helped me to achieve the things that I have today. Self-development is key, and in an attempt to learn and improve yourself, you naturally achieve impressive feats without even realising. When I discovered this, I realised that we truly are limitless, but don’t just take my word for it, I have proof!

Work Experience

Work experience offers so many opportunities for self-development:

  • Learn what you love to do
  • Learn what you hate to do (which is just as important!)
  • Learn new skills
  • Form new professional relationships
  • Experience different work cultures and values

Whether it is paid, voluntary, a 10-week internship, a one-off event, for a top 10 global firm or for a local charity store – you will learn something! I would recommend that you get as much experience as you can, however, do not repeat the same role every time. The rule of diminishing returns applies here. If you expose yourself to a variety of organisations and job types, then you will develop more and become more all-rounded than if you repeat the same placement type every summer.

Newton’s 3rd law also applies: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, you get out what you put in. Remember, the best attitude towards work experience is not just to add something to your CV – it is to acquire knowledge and to grow as a person. Ask questions, take notes, and study as much as you can about the role. Now, instead of teaching you the basics, your employer can use your 1-to-1 time to teach you their philosophies, their decision-making processes, and all the things that you can’t read in a textbook. Just by striving to learn as much as you can, you will immediately stand out.

I was raised by a working-class family with minimum job security or stability. I began gaining experience by coaching at after-school clubs and during the holidays. By following the guidance above, I have now had the opportunity to work with professional UK basketball players, and the Jamaican athletics team, arguably the most elite athletics team in the world. This is also how I was able to convert an internship with Lloyds Banking Group into a graduate offer in their most competitive stream. By viewing work experience as an opportunity to grow, and not just a stepping stone to a career, I have been able to complete 6 summer internships across my first 3 years of University.


Mentors offer so many opportunities for self-development. They can:

  •    Help you to identify areas to improve
  •    Share knowledge, experience, and expertise
  •    Offer encouragement and support to go outside of your comfort zone
  •    Offer recognition and praise for achievements
  •    Help to expand your network

A mentor can be anything from the CEO of a multinational company, to a parent or younger sibling… yes, I did say younger sibling! Those that have the humility to learn from others who are more experienced or knowledgeable in a particular area will always set themselves up for greater opportunity to succeed. Everybody will know more about something than you do, whether that be how to create a rocket engine or how to develop a more optimistic mindset.

I recommend that you reflect on your own strengths and weaknesses. You can ask those that know you well on a personal and professional level to help you. From here, you can identify the areas that you most want to develop and then identify somebody who is already more advanced in these areas. It can be somebody within your current network but doesn’t have to be. Now all you have to do is ask for their support or mentorship. The worst that can happen is that they turn you down, but even then you will have caught their attention as somebody who is driven and hungry to learn. Alternatively, there are a number of organisations that may already have a mentoring programme that you can get involved in, such as your school, university or upReach.

As the first in my family to go to University, I had nobody at all that I could talk to about the transition. It was here that I was allocated a mentor that supported this transition from the final year of college to the end of the first year of University. I can directly attribute 2 paid internships to his support. He also helped me to gain recognition for my achievements by nominating me for the upReach Ten Award that I received in 2018, and was one of two that nominated me for the 2017 UK Future Leaders Publication, in which I was ranked as number 8. Not to mention that with his support, I was able to secure an additional £2,000 of funding a year at University through a scholarship that I would never have found without him. Last but not least, I now have an extra friend for life, who is equally as driven and eager to help others as I am. I now have several mentors who specialise in all of the areas that I would like to exceed in, including sport, the corporate world, and real estate.


Above are just two examples of how my philosophy to learn and develop myself have not only led me to become a better version of myself, but also to fill up my CV without even realising. Some other tools for development that I would recommend would include an international experience, either volunteering, working, or studying abroad. My year at the University of Hong Kong was undoubtedly my most eye-opening experience so far. Also, I would strongly recommend that you take up a leadership role. For me, this began by leading residential projects and captaining my basketball team. Before I knew it, I had the opportunity to manage multi-thousand-pound budgets and dozens of staff and volunteers on projects around the University and in the local community.

As discussed, self-development and growth form the basis of all of my actions and decision making. Sometimes getting started can be the hardest part. Simply clear your mind, and say the magical 10 words that proceeded much of my success journey. You can say it in your head, out loud, to your parents or in front of a mirror – as long as you truly believe in the words that you say. Today is the day: ‘I want to be the best that I can be’.

Kingstun and the other SSMA nominees have recorded video interviews for upReach, talking about their experiences and tips for success. Teaser videos will be posted on the upReach Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn in the weeks to come. To receive a reminder about these videos, and be the first to watch them, email Alexandra:

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