Approxmiately 4,000 students will be graduating from the University of East Anglia next week, and among them are many inspiring stories.
All have worked hard to achieve their degree but some have gone that extra mile to achieve their dreams. For some, attending university has opened doors that they would never have imagined.
They include a PhD student who will spend the next five years working on a £3m international volcano project, an Olympic torchbearer, a South Norfolk District councillor, and a future Anglican clergyman.
For all of the graduates, their friends and families, the four days of ceremonies from Tuesday, July 17, to Friday, July 20, will be an occasion for celebration.
They will be joined in their celebrations by a number of eminent people who are being honoured by the university for their contribution to the intellectual and cultural life of the region, the nation or the world.
Those receiving honorary degrees include sports presenter Jake Humphrey, Olympic cyclist Emma Pooley and international singer-songwriter Cathy Dennis.
My Family and Harry Potter star Zoe Wanamaker, director Brian Eastman and Indian MP Prof M.S. Swaminathan will also be recognised in this year’s ceremonies.
Intrepid PhD student spends months on volcanic island
A remote island in the South Atlantic might sound like the ideal holiday spot – but for Anna Hicks, the volcanic Tristan da Cunha provided the perfect base for her PhD research project.
Anna discovered her love of geology while still as school, and it developed into a fascination with volcanoes during her undergraduate degree and subsequent summer school in Hawaii.
Her PhD at UEA has centred on Tristan da Cunha, an island so remote that it takes around 10 days to get there by boat – and that’s after a flight to Cape Town.
“I have spent two four-month periods on Tristan,” Anna said. “There is only one boat to and from the island each month, so if you aren’t able to get one of the 12 spaces on board, you have to wait at least four weeks for the next one – it happened to me during my last visit, but then Tristan isn’t a bad place to be stranded!”
The focus of her work has been on geological and social science – working with the 261 islanders to discover more about the volcano’s previous eruptions, information which could help identify patterns from the past and better anticipate future activity.
Anna said: “The last time the volcano erupted in 1961, the whole Tristan population was evacuated to the UK for two years. I worked with those who remembered that last eruption to establish what happened, and even got the children of the island involved too by getting them to interview the older members of the community.”
Now her PhD is complete, Anna has gone straight into working on a five year, £3 million volcano research project based at UEA.
Entitled ‘Strengthening Resilience in Volcanic Areas’ (STREVA), it will focus on examining previous volcano eruptions around the world, to see what lessons can be learned and possibly applied to others when they erupt in the future.
“There are 1,500 potentially active volcanoes in the world – with around 20 erupting at any one time,” Anna said. “Because they are located disproportionately in poorer countries, this can make the impact of eruptions all the more devastating, and we hope the outcomes of this study will make a real difference to the lives of those affected.”
Fund-raising Olympic torchbearer
From cycling through Europe to being an Olympic torchbearer – English Literature student Sean Harris has certainly made the most of his three years at university.
Sean, from Wymondham, has spent much of his spare time over the last three years raising money for good causes. In 2011, he planned and completed a solo cycle ride from Zurich to England, collecting over £1,500 for Cancer Research UK. This year, he ran his first London Marathon, raising £1,600 for Shelter UK.
He said: “I’ve really enjoyed the chance to get involved in fundraising, both within and outside of the university. During my final year I have been very involved with the UEA Raising and Giving society, helping to organise events including charity football matches at Carrow Road.”
Despite the large amount of time doing charity work, Sean has made sure to dedicate himself to his studies, and even managed to work part-time at Wymondham Dell Bowls Club.
After his graduation on Friday, he hopes to go travelling. “I’ve just returned from trekking along the Inca Trail in Peru with a group of other students, raising £95,000 between us in the process.
“When I combine my charity work, getting my degree, and carrying the Olympic torch through Norwich on July 5, I think my last year at UEA has been a very fortunate one.”
History graduate to become Anglican clergyman
Suffolk-born Laurence Smith is embarking on an unusual career choice after his graduation on Thursday – he is going to train to become an Anglican clergyman.
Laurence, who has just completed a BA in history, is set to begin his training in September at Ridley Hall in Cambridge, where he will study Theology for three years.
He said: “After that, I will be able to start working full-time as a curate in a church, before gaining enough experience to be ordained as a priest.
“It all takes a very long time, but each stage will bring its own unique experience – I am very excited for all that these years will contain!”
Whilst at UEA, Laurence has been very involved with the university’s Christian Union, serving on the committee and organising events such as music evenings and bible study.
He is also sure that his three years of historical studies will be invaluable as he trains for his future career: “Studying history at UEA has helped me to develop a great deal of useful skills which will transfer to studying theology.
“Being at university has already helped me grow in confidence, and be able to establish relationships with all new people from varying backgrounds. These combined skills and experiences will be invaluable in the next stage of my career.”
Politics student balances degree with job as district councillor
A politics student graduating on Friday has been putting her degree into practice by working as a South Norfolk District councillor alongside her studies.
Laura Webster, 21, was elected in the Newton Flotman ward in May 2011. “I love politics,” she said, “and wanted to get more involved in the local community. It is also good to test the water for what I might want to do in the future.”
Since taking office, she has worked on a number of issues, including being the council’s champion for young people.
She said: “There has been an awful lot to learn, and I have had to make sure to balance my work as councillor with my university studies. However, it has been a great opportunity, and I look forward to the next three years as a councillor”
Laura is going on to study part-time for a postgraduate law qualification, which hopes will lead to a job as a barrister. So does this mean she has decided not to go into politics full-time? “I might do,” she said. "But not for at least 30 years or so, I feel that I'm really going to love law!"
Trainee doctor volunteers 500 hours in one year
Few students would find time to do much else when training to become a doctor. However Adam Channell has managed to fit in a thousand hours of volunteering alongside his medical degree – including 500 in one year alone.
As a member and eventual leader of the university’s St John Ambulance society, Adam has spent much of his spare time providing first aid support at gigs and club nights on campus, and in the city on the SOS bus.
The 23 year old, who is originally from Essex, has also trained hundreds of others in the basics of first aid. He said: “I’ve been one of the leads on the British Heart Foundation HeartStart scheme, through which I have trained over 200 people on campus in the past year, including 50 first year medical students.”
In addition to his medical work in this country, Adam also spent 10 weeks at a small rural hospital in Tanzania, where he saw first-hand how doctors there cope with extremely limited medical equipment.
He will not have long to celebrated his graduation, as next Monday will be his first day as a foundation doctor at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage. Adam said: “I have really enjoyed my time at UEA, and have had so many fantastic opportunities to try something new. I will definitely miss the community spirit of the university and all of the people I have met during my time here.”
Business student puts studies into practice at her own company
A mature student graduating on Tuesday is already putting her Master of Business Administration (MBA) course to good use while running her own chain of pharmacies.
Deirdre Whyatt moved to Norwich from London in 2000, when she and husband Lyndon bought their first pharmacy in the city. The business has since grown to include five pharmacies across Norfolk, and it was partly due to this growth that Deirdre decided to embark on a MBA at the university, accompanied by her company’s superintendent pharmacist, Emma Murray.
Deirdre said: “The main reasons for us doing the course were to ensure that we had the tools to withstand all the turbulence of the economic instability, consolidating the business before future plans were made, and to meet people outside the pharmacy world who could teach us through their successes and mistakes.”
Since finishing the course, both Deirdre and Emma have been putting all they learnt into practice at the branches of Natural Health Pharmacy. They have also been collaborating with Norwich Business School at UEA, allowing the current students on the Executive MBA course to do a consultancy project at the company.
Deirdre believes that her time on the course has helped her personally as well as professionally: “The MBA has given me the confidence to question others and to believe in my practical ability. In the past, I would be very nervous and shy at meetings, as I had not had any formal business training.
“I am proud of what Emma and I have achieved, with both of us having young children who needed our attention alongside our coursework. I know that as a small independent company in Norfolk, we are passionate about what we do, have a strong work ethic and want the company to be successful.
“I believe that the MBA at UEA has given us the confidence and tools to accomplish our hopes and dreams.”