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Celebrations for thousands of UEA students

Around 4,500 University of East Anglia (UEA) students will celebrate the culmination of three or more years’ hard work with their family and friends when they graduate at ceremonies next week (16-20 July).

As well as gaining a degree, many have used their time at university to achieve their ambitions or have overcome challenges with their mental and physical health, disability or home lives.

Vicky Bristow – ‘My time at UEA has transformed me!’

Vicky Bristow, 41, credits the support and opportunities she has received at UEA in helping her to grow her confidence and overcome difficulties in her home life; she is graduating with a degree in BSc Cognitive Psychology.

She said: “Studying for this degree has helped me to build myself up from someone who was afraid to leave the house into a strong, confident woman. My time at UEA has transformed me!

“I was very ill after giving birth to twins in 2009 after having two hemorrhages, both of which would have killed me without intervention from a skilled medical team and six units of blood.”

Vicky’s children were both diagnosed with a rare form of Spinal Muscular Atrophy, learning disabilities and she was told they would be wheelchair-bound for the rest of their lives. She said: “They underwent multiple operations and hospital appointments while I was studying, and at times juggling my work with family life was hard. However, they are now progressing with their walking and doing really well.”

Vicky has been involved in several of activities while at University including completing the UEA Award to Gold level, taking part in a public speaking course, winning a School of Psychology poetry competition and being part of a winning team on the Dragon’s Den residential weekend, which involved giving a presentation to a panel about marketing a product.

She said: “My growing confidence has carried over to outside my university life, I have performed on stage several times with a choir including at church and even at the Norwich Theatre Royal with Lulu!

“I still have anxiety but have learned to use it as my ally as it motivates me to work hard.”

After she graduates, Vicky is going on to study for a Masters in Cognitive Neuroscience at UEA. She added: “I’m now looking forward to the future, working hard, seeing my career flourish and my children continuing to be happy and healthy.”

Chris Vear – ‘University has taught me to give myself time to breathe’

Also graduating is Chris Vear, a Psychology BSc student from Norfolk. He has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), a muscle wasting condition, which causes fatigue and weakness.

Chris said: “Due to my fatigue, it's been a struggle at times keeping up with assignments, and making it in for the dreaded 9am starts! Achieving deadlines has sometimes been a challenge as a result, but the University has been very supportive and has helped me with those where they can.

“I think university has taught me to pace myself more, and give myself time to breathe.

“Meeting new friends has been amazing for me. I definitely would not have coped at University without their support. Life at UEA has felt so inclusive, with staff and students communicating as colleagues rather than teacher and student. That's been so great for me, creating a productive and fun environment to learn in.”

When Chris, 21, graduates he hopes to work in education, supporting pupils with special educational needs. “My condition unfortunately means teaching full-time would be difficult, but I'd still like to support others where I can.”

Serafina Chan – ‘My entire University experience has been a roller coaster ride of emotions’

Serafina Chan, who is originally from Singapore, admits her university experience has been a series of low and high points, but acknowledges the support she received at the start of her first year in helping her to settle in and succeed in her studies.

Serafina said: “Five days before I was due to move to Norwich to begin University I was involved in a road accident where I severely injured my leg. This left me unable to walk and I was worried that getting around my accommodation and campus would be challenging.

“I contacted the University for advice and on my first day I collected what I thought would be a wheelchair, but was pleasantly surprised to be loaned a snazzy red mobility scooter by the Disability Support Team. After a quick tutorial, I was loaned the scooter for three months while I recovered.

“It turned out to be a godsend for getting to and from campus accommodation to lectures. I cannot begin to imagine how I would have been able to attend daily 9am lectures otherwise.

“My entire University experience has been a roller coaster ride of emotions with big lows, but even bigger highs. I would not have been able to make it through to the final year with graduation in sight without the help, understanding and unwavering support from my personal adviser, course director, the Learning and Teaching Hub, and Student Support Services.”

Serafina will graduate with a BSc Occupational Therapy and is currently applying for roles as an NHS occupational therapist.

Bronte Munro – ‘I’m now looking forwards and I can’t wait to see what the future brings’

Bronte Munro has overcome challenges she has faced with her mental health, to graduate with a BSc Biomedical Sciences degree and is now looking towards further study.

While in her second year at University, Bronte who is now 22, hit crisis point with her anxiety and depression while studying for exams. She said: “It was a hard time for me. When lectures stopped and it was down to me to manage my revision time, I suddenly didn’t have any structure. I found it hard to motivate myself to even make it into University and I ended up staying at home on my own a lot. I slowly went into a downward spiral.

“I chose to keep quiet and couldn’t admit that I wasn’t managing, until I hit rock-bottom. I wasn’t sleeping or eating properly, my friendships suffered, and I had no other option but to ask for help.”

She decided to contact UEA’s Student Support Services where she received Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), counselling and was advised about the University’s exercise referral scheme. The scheme helps students receiving support from UEA for their mental health, and who would benefit from physical activity, to gain free access to Sportspark facilities.

“I’m not going to say that the classes instantly made me better, because that just wasn’t the case. But after going to a few sessions, I saw a gradual lift in my mood and was better able to cope with daily life.

“With the support I’ve received, I’ve been so much better equipped to deal with coursework deadlines and writing my dissertation.

“I understand that my mental health conditions may not disappear, as I accept it is a part me, but I’ve realised it shouldn’t define you and getting help made me realise that I am in control of them, not the other way around.”

Bronte is now applying for research roles and hopes to study a PhD in the future. “I’m now looking forwards and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.”

Nigel Lungenmuss-Ward – ‘UEA is the gold standard of teacher training’

Nigel Lungenmuss-Ward, who is 31, is graduating with a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) and has secured a primary school teaching job in his hometown of Lowestoft.

He studied English, Psychology and Sociology at City College Norwich and the PGCE course was recommended to him by many of the teachers he came into contact with.

“I heard from various other sources that the PGCE offered by UEA is the gold standard of teacher training.” said Nigel.

While at University, Nigel’s love of reading has continued to grow and some of his work on Inspiring Reading for Pleasure through social media has been featured on the Open University’s Research Rich Pedagogies Reading for Pleasure website. He has also joined a group where he meets up with his fellow teachers once a term to discuss and recommend books that they have read in their classes.

“Meeting so many other aspiring teachers and making great friends on the course has been fantastic. But the highlight for me has been meeting and teaching the children on my placements – it’s been such a privilege and it’s reinforced my desire to become a teacher.

“The PGCE staff, including my tutors have all been really supportive – they have my best interest in mind when offering me feedback and advice.

“I am delighted to say that I have accepted a teaching position in Lowestoft and I’m looking forward to getting started and continuing my journey to become the best educator I can be.”

Jack – ‘It’s been a quite remarkable transformation’

Jack graduates from UEA with a Starred First, awarded to students who achieve over 75% in their degree, in International Relations and Politics. Now, despite leaving his Suffolk sixth form with disappointing A level grades, low confidence and battling with depression, he’s a successful campaigner.

His foundation and first two years were challenging, as he struggled with depression and worried about his grades, but he was supported by the Student Support Services and, together with help from his friends and inspiring teaching, his confidence grew.

He said: “I’m proud that I ended up achieving a Starred First in my degree. It’s been a quite remarkable transformation, and one that I would have laughed at if I could tell my younger self where I am now.”

One of Jack’s final year modules in activist campaigning led him to get involved in a campaign to reduce plastic pollution. He and his fellow students spotted a gap in the law which meant that millions of “nurdles”, 3-8mm pieces of plastic used to produce industrial plastic, are spilled during the production process.

Jack and another student from his course are continuing the campaign, backed by UEA’s School of Politics. “As part of my aim to get more MPs and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) involved, the day after I graduate I’ll be in Westminster meeting prominent anti-nurdle MP John McNally. His and other MPs support helps to give our voice greater weight and influence in the crowded field of environmental lobbying. The ultimate goal right now is to get an NGO to take on the campaign so that we can change the law and stop this huge problem.”