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UEA’s Class of 2017 show there’s more to uni than gaining a degree

UEA students graduating

From 17-21 July, 3,900 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. As well as gaining a degree, many have overcome huge challenges or used their time at university to achieve other ambitions, from setting up a business to volunteering.

Anne Thorell and her childrenInstead of taking traditional maternity leave after having her fourth baby, Anne Thorell (left with her children) studied for a Masters in Clinical Education. That was in addition to the Masters in Health Economics she completed last year, from which she graduates this summer. She did all this while working towards a degree in Medicine and, by the time she graduates from Medical School, she will have been studying for seven years, while raising her four young children.

“I always wanted to study medicine but life took different twists and turns and I ended up doing something else,” she said. “Then I was offered a place to do midwifery, which I couldn’t take up for family reasons and, by the time I got the chance to reapply, I’d plucked up the courage to try for medicine. Once I qualify, I’d like to work in obstetrics and am also interested in education, which is why I’ve just completed my Clinical Education Masters.

“I believe it’s never too late to follow your dreams, whatever they might be! Given how much time we spend at work and how long we have to work before we retire, it’s important to do something we enjoy. If you’re passionate about something, don’t let things stand in your way. Studying medicine with four children is a challenge, but I like being a role model to them and want them to know that they can do anything they set their minds to. The journey won't always be easy, there will be sacrifices you have to make on the way, but in the end it will all be worthwhile.”

Other types of challenge can make the path difficult too. Laura (not her real name) has earned an English Literature degree and is about to begin working for a charity after overcoming crippling anxiety and depression. “I first suffered in my early teens,” she said. “I couldn’t tell my family so never really received any help. When I started university, I was perfectly fine, happy and excited to begin the next chapter of my life. However, half-way through my first year, things went downhill again. By my second year I literally could not work. I was so depressed and anxious it was all I could think about. Concentrating was impossible so I’ve read entire books without having any idea what they were about when I went to the seminars. I had help from Student Support and finally found the courage to speak to my seminar leaders and academic adviser, who proved to be amazing and incredibly supportive.

“University can be an incredibly stressful and difficult experience, especially if you are affected by mental health issues. However, I would do it all again if I could. It has been the most amazing time of my life, despite also having had some of the worst times of my life. Being at UEA taught me so much and I truly felt valued as an individual. All these experiences, good and bad, academic or not, made me the person I am today – a person I am immensely proud of!”

Joshua MannJoshua Mann (left), BSc Science with Honours, is travelling to Tanzania in September to work with the Raleigh International Citizenship Team for three months, visiting villages and schools to encourage people to set up small, sustainable, businesses, such as bakeries – and is learning Swahili to do so. “I wanted to use the experience in sustainable development I've gained throughout my degree programme to give something back to the world, and I also think it will be a great personal journey and make me appreciate the things I have back home,” he said. 

“The overarching aim is to create employment opportunities for young people that help to combat social and climate changes in the future. When I return home to Norwich, I will work to encourage more young people to volunteer in their local communities. It can be quite difficult for young people to integrate in local society now the internet is such an easy method of communication - and it’s also important to show older generations that young people can be a positive force too.”

Joshua is fundraising to make a donation to the community where he’ll be staying. If you’d like to contribute, go to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/josh-mann-ics.

Tommy DominguezLaw student Tommy Dominguez (left) has not only won a Major Exhibition Scholarship Award and Duke of Edinburgh Entrance Award that will fund his law school studies, Inn of Court admission and calling to the bar, but has found time to volunteer for a number of organisations while studying at UEA. 

“Throughout my three years at UEA I’ve volunteered for the Justice Project,” he said. “Known as the Innocence Project, it was set up in response to the apparent failures of the Criminal Cases Review Commission following notorious miscarriages of justice such as the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six. It aims to ensure that the victims of miscarriages of justice have their cases overturned and we review potential cases. These reach the Court of Appeal if there’s a real possibility of the original ruling being overturned. It’s encouraging to know that the work you do can change someone’s life for the better.

“In my final year I volunteered as a probation mentor with an organisation dealing primarily with people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. It was challenging at times but, again, very rewarding. I’ve also volunteered as a Gateway assessor with the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, which meant I was the client’s first point of contact. I also undertook mini-pupillages with a number of barristers, marshalled a variety of judges and had work experience placements in Law firms. All this experience has helped me gain valuable skills and knowledge in addition to my studies, and enabled me to apply what I’ve learned to something that helps others.”

Florence Bloore and LucyFlorence Bloore (left with Lucy) has overcome more than most to achieve her History of Art degree at UEA. In her second year, she was awarded the Henry Thomas Browning prize, which recognises outstanding academic achievement in the face of adversity. When she started her degree, her daughter Lucy was six months old and she was recovering from postnatal psychosis and postnatal depression, for which she had been hospitalised.

“My time at UEA has been amazing and, although it’s been tough (really tough at times) to raise my daughter while studying, it has helped me to recover and develop as an individual,” she said. “UEA has been so supportive – even encouraging me to bring Lucy into lectures if I needed to. I will be sad to say goodbye but can’t wait to graduate and make her proud. I want to show that women can achieve academically alongside having children and that having mental health problems need not be a barrier to achieving your dreams. With the correct help, many conditions can be managed alongside studying.

“University can, and should be, an amazing time in your life, helping you to become the best version of yourself. If you do have problems, be honest, so your chosen university can offer you the best support. Winning the prize meant so much to me as it made me feel like my difficulties were really understood and appreciated, never just tolerated.”

Florence is now working for the National Trust at Blickling Hall and hopes, in the future, to study for a PhD at UEA.

Allison HarveyMature student Allison Harvey (left) has also overcome challenges to achieve her BA in Education. It can be hard to navigate student life with responsibilities outside university, and Allison has successfully completed her degree while looking after her disabled son and daughter – her son starts at UEA in September – and living 28 miles and three bus changes away.

“Despite spending four and a half hours travelling each day, I’ve rarely missed a lecture thanks to support from my husband and parents, who’ve been my safety net when things got tough and my daughter was not well enough to attend college,” she said.

“I’ve had an amazing time at UEA. My husband was so inspired that he applied himself and has just finished his foundation year. I did plan to go straight in to teaching but will be back next semester to begin my Master’s!”

Many students use their time at university to establish businesses, and Charlotte Bones (below left) is an example of someone who has combined learning from her degree with her hobby to start a successful venture.

Charlotte Bones“When I began university, I quickly realised that my favourite cosmetic brands were out of my price range,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in skincare and doing a Natural Sciences degree has given me useful knowledge, so I began experimenting with making my own products.

"After a lot of research, much trial and error and a great deal of support from the Student Enterprise team at UEA, I now have a range of five products – with three more soon to be released - and a headquarters in my garden at home in Suffolk.”

Charlotte sells her products online (http://www.lottaskincare.co.uk/) as well as at craft fairs and runs workshops to teach people how to make their own body butter. “My products are all natural and designed for sensitive skin. It was hard work starting the business but the people I’ve met and things I’ve learned at university have helped enormously. For example, I use amber glass bottles because they filter out UV light, increasing the lifespan of the product inside, and my lab work taught me how to mix chemicals. It all gave me the confidence to pursue my ideas, and one day I’d like to build it into a full-time business.”