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University of York students celebrate success

Posted on 12 July 2011

Nearly 3,000 men and women will graduate from the University of York this week, each with a story to tell. Here are just some of them:

Mum’s the word

Clare Keegan (22) leaves York not just as a Sociology graduate but as a new mother too. Baby Imogen, now eight months old, was born early in the third year of Clare’s studies.

Not only did Clare take motherhood in her stride, but she turned it to her advantage by making it the topic of her research. While breastfeeding her new daughter, she carried out 22 interviews with other new mums from the York and Durham areas for a dissertation about the sociology of infant feeding practices. Her dissertation on the social constraints and pressures faced by young mothers in relation to both breast and bottle feeding earned Clare outstanding marks.

Clare, from Durham, says: “It hasn’t been easy but it’s been a fantastic year. I love being a mum! Originally I was really worried about whether I’d be able to stay at University with a newborn, but I was determined to complete my degree.

“My dissertation has been a major part of the year, and taking on a topic which combined my personal and academic life really helped me to stay focused. My partner has helped me manage being a student and a new parent, as he understands what it’s like as he’s also a student at York. My mum and partner’s mum, neither of whom live in York, have been really supportive with helping me get to lectures and seminars.”

Imogen was born three weeks into the first term of Clare’s final year and although Clare missed a couple of lectures in the first term, she made a presentation just two weeks after Imogen was born and did not miss a single lecture from the second term onwards.

Baby Imogen has become a common sight in the library and in the Department of Sociology. “My Department have been very supportive, always welcoming Imogen and happy to see her, which has been very important to me,” says Clare. “Knowing that my supervisors and tutors wanted me to succeed really encouraged me to keep going.”

Her experiences of motherhood have also helped Clare in her choice of career and she will begin a midwifery course in Bradford this autumn.

Clare says, “Midwifery has always been something that's interested me but I wasn’t sure what it really entailed or whether it would suit me. When I was pregnant I became interested in everything to do with pregnancy and birth and would go to the University library and take out the midwifery and medical childbirth textbooks. My desire to become a midwife just grew from there.

“I had a wonderful midwife at the University health centre, and I chatted to lots of midwives during my pregnancy about their role, which contributed as well. Becoming a mum made me realise that I was capable of taking on the challenge.”

Clare will graduate with a BA in Sociology (2:1) on Friday, 15 July at noon.

Political ambitions

Cllr James Alexander was not the only former York student to sweep to power in the May local elections.

At the same time as the University of York graduate became the new leader of City of York Council, student Chris Maughan became Blackpool Borough Council’s youngest ever councillor at 21. And what makes Chris’s election success even more remarkable was that he was studying full-time for a Chemistry degree at York at the time.

“I basically spent four weeks of the Easter vacation in Blackpool canvassing and campaigning,” explains Chris. “I then came straight back to York to do an exam in week one of the summer term, then have been commuting backwards and forwards ever since.”

A lifelong supporter of the Labour Party, Chris declared his interest in standing for office in his home town last winter. He won the Highfield Ward at the May local election.

Chris says, “I’m really enjoying being a councillor and it’s good to be helping people and impacting on lives in a positive way. There is definitely a learning curve to being a councillor with lots of processes and conventions to get used to. I think the fact that I’ve been in formal education for the last 17 years helps a lot as it makes it easier to carry on learning. My time at York has really helped in terms of my communication and IT skills. I was also Treasurer of the YUSnow Committee, one of the University’s biggest clubs which gave me some useful experience and transferable skills.”  

Chris is the youngest ever member of the Blackpool Police Authority and serves on a number of panels and committees including the Public Protection Sub-Committee, the Blackpool Community Safety and Drugs Partnership and is Chair of the Scrutiny Committee.

“There are lots of big challenges in local government at the moment, not least the massive cuts we need to deal with. As a young person, one of my priorities is making sure we continue to meet the needs of vulnerable young people, making sure their services and facilities are protected. Maintaining the standards of our schools is also another important issue to me.”

Chris will receive an MChem degree on Wednesday, 13 July at 9.30am.

Outstanding result for visually impaired student

Louise Redsull (26) is returning to York following a month’s backpacking trip to Thailand to receive her Masters in Social Work.

Louise, who worked as a volunteer in Nepal and spent a year in Sydney as an undergraduate before coming to York, does not let the fact that she is registered blind stand in the way of her love of travelling or academic success, achieving outstanding grades.

In-between studying hard and placements with voluntary organisations and the Child and Mental Health Services in York, Louise also found time to qualify to take out a guide dog on her own. Throughout the second year of her two-year course, Golden Retriever Billie has been at her side.

“Having a guide dog is a big responsibility and I only started to think about it at the beginning of last year,” explains Louise, who is originally from Milton Keynes. “Last summer I had an assessment and a match was found really quickly - you are matched to a guide dog in terms of personality and lifestyle and I think both Billie and I have big personalities so we get along well!

“The training last summer was quite intense and involved working with a trainer one-to-one around York for three weeks. I started a placement straight after I qualified with Billie and also had three assignments to do, so it was a busy time.

“It’s a big life change being responsible for a guide dog and there are lots of challenges. It’s about a partnership which took us about six months to build. It’s working well now, and although there are challenges, there is also companionship and lots of positives too.”

Louise graduated from the University of Bath in 2007 with a First in her BSc in Psychology and came to York in 2009 because of the reputation of the social work course. She says, “I’ve made some really good friends and the placements have been really good. That’s definitely where you do a lot of your learning as you are putting things into practice.”

Louise has been visually impaired since birth, and although very independent, has found the Disability Services at the University helpful.

She says, “I have computer software fitted that reads sections of textbooks out loud and I like to take my own notes so don’t need a lot of help in those respects. However, Disability Services helped me with things like contacting publishers for electronic versions of textbooks, getting books from the library and scanning in sections of textbooks, so provided extra help when I needed it.”

Louise will graduate with a Masters in Social Work on Friday, 15 July at noon.

Diabetes proves no barrier to success

Sarah Pickles from Bradford was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at seven years old. Her body produces no insulin which means a very strict regime of counting carbohydrates and injecting the correct amount of insulin for everything she eats.

Despite the restrictions in lifestyle this brings, Sarah not only achieved a 2:1 degree in English Literature and Linguistics, but also found time during her studies to help young children with diabetes and take an active role in the University’s York Student Television (YSTV).

Sarah, aged 20, says, “I think as a whole being diabetic has made me more determined to succeed. It pushed me to organise and structure my academic and society lifestyle so it best fitted around the diabetes.

“Generally I’ve not had many problems, although stress tends to alter my blood sugar levels. This was particularly the case when my dad died from cancer at the start of my second year. In the final term of my last year my control went all over the place and massively affected my ability to work, but I just had to push through it and work especially hard.”

During her time as an undergraduate at York, Sarah worked with Leeds Metropolitan University as a facilitator on the Getting Sorted programme. This involved peer to peer education and advice, running a series of self-care workshops for young children with diabetes to help improve confidence in managing the condition.

Sarah also worked with both York and Bradford Hospital Radio stations and volunteered with Viva Voce audio magazine. In addition, she acted as course representative, worked on the online Department of English careers magazine Ellipsis and spent much of her time working for YSTV for which she received several University awards.   

“My involvement with York Student Television has been without doubt the highlight of my University life,” says Sarah. “I was Commercial Director during my second year, which involved promoting the station, and working on the brand and public image. In my third year I became Sports Producer, revitalising the York Sport Show which runs fortnightly, producing, filming, editing, scripting and directing, which took up every Wednesday afternoon out on the sports pitches.”

YSTV was named the second best student television station in the country at the National Student Television Awards. Sarah will remain at York to do a Masters in Film and Literature and is taking on the role of Station Director at York Student TV. “There’s a fantastic team of people at YSTV,” says Sarah. “I am proud to say I am Station Director for a station which will move to be bigger and better than ever before over the next year.”

Sarah graduates with a BA in English and Linguistics (2:1) on Wednesday, 13 July at noon.

From Inner Mongolia to York

Shuting Zhang (20) was born in Inner Mongolia, moving to Beijing before attending high school. She graduates from York with a First class degree in Economics and Finance and is heading to the United States to study for a Masters in Finance.

Volunteering with a local charity, hiking and jogging with friends at 7am every morning are just some of the memories Shuting takes with her of her “beloved” York.

“I first visited England as a tourist when I was 15,” explains Shuting. “Three years later, I went to England again, arriving in York on 12 October 2008, one day before University started. I remember the date so clearly because it was one of the turning points of my life.

“There are so many highlights and good memories I am taking away with me. When I look back, many trivial events have been a valuable learning experience or simply a fun time to remember. I especially enjoyed it when I started to mingle with people from different cultures and exchanged ideas over good food from our own cultures.”

Shuting says she would have no hesitation recommending studying at York to friends or family. “I would highly recommend York to people who are interested in doing their higher education in the UK. I think our University provides the combination of advanced academic research and high quality teaching. Most of all, everybody can get something out of it. “York is also a lovely town which is just about the right size. It is not too big to be crowded or noisy. Nor is it too small to be isolated and lonely. It gives you most of what you need, plus easy access to a world of interesting places and events in Europe.”

Shuting spent her second year at the University of California, San Diego as part of a York exchange scheme.

“My year at UCSD was a growth experience which I wouldn’t trade in for anything else,” she says. “Coming from a Chinese background, I was able to evaluate my time in England and in California critically, as if my education has three distinct yet interconnected layers – Chinese, British and American. My first year spent in York tremendously helped me quickly adapt to the American culture.”

She is looking forward to seeing old friends in the States when she begins her Masters at the Claremont McKenna College in California this autumn.

Contact details

Caron Lett
Press Officer

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