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Student who grew up in the care system thanks DMU staff for helping her to succeed

A De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) student has thanked the university’s ‘incredible’ staff for helping her to overcome adversity to become Leicester’s Student of the Year.

Geraldine Williams grew up in the care system and had a daughter before deciding to enrol at DMU as a mature student to study Biomedical Science.

Geraldine Williams

She excelled during her time at university, being named Student of the Year by the Leicester Mercury and graduating in 2017. She is now planning to stay in academia by starting a PhD at the University of Leicester.

She said: “I’m so grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve experienced at DMU and especially for the staff. If it wasn’t for the support of my lecturers and all of the staff at DMU then I wouldn’t be where I am now.

“I never felt out of place at DMU, when I arrived it was great to see so many different people. You don’t stand out, everybody is from different backgrounds and everybody has a story to tell.”

After growing up in the care system, Geraldine was then provided with a flat and given a job but was desperate to return to education. No government funding was available but after giving birth to her daughter in 2010 she decided she had had enough of shift work and went back to college.

She studied maths and science courses and won a distinguished student award which put her in a position to apply to study for a degree DMU, 10 years after she first left education.

She explained: “At college they pushed me to get into university, which I didn’t think would ever be possible. I thought somebody like me just doesn’t go to university.”

But Geraldine was given an unconditional offer to study Biomedical Science at DMU and credits her tutor, National Teaching Fellow Dr Jo Rushworth, for ensuring that she was able to excel at university, including picking up several awards.

“When I came to DMU it was a new experience for me but it was really good,” she said. “I had a fantastic tutor and a lot of my progress stemmed from the support I got from her. She put me up for the Vice-Chancellor’s award during my first year, which I won.

“Someone then anonymously nominated me for the Leicester Mercury Student of the Year award which I also won. That was amazing and so inspiring, and it meant that I was able to inspire other people to go to university.

“The other nominees had amazing stories and backgrounds, so I was incredibly proud to win the award. I also won a Beating the Odds award which is for people who don’t expect to get into education, come from the care system and have a disadvantage in trying to push themselves further.

“It was nice recognition because throughout my degree I had to balance looking after my daughter and working to pay for her education, which was very hard.

“At one time I didn’t think I was going to be able to finish my degree, but my tutor really pushed me, she helped me to finish my degree and also helped with my mental health.”

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After completing her undergraduate degree, Geraldine decided to apply for a PhD and was offered a fully funded PhD at the University of Leicester, wowing the panel with a presentation about her research and beating the other applicants to the role.

Geraldine explained: “I loved my degree at DMU, I love learning and I love science so the degree was amazing, even though it was really hard. The support I was given was amazing, particularly from Dr Jo Rushworth and Dr Angela O’Sullivan.

“Even though they were no longer my tutors, Jo and Angela helped me to prepare for my PhD interview. They were amazing and gave me the confidence I needed, I don’t think I’d have got this fantastic opportunity without them.

“If they know you’re putting in the hard work all of the DMU staff will help you, regardless of your background. It’s amazing to think that somebody like me could now become a doctor of cardiovascular science.”

Geraldine now wants to use her own experiences to inspire more people growing up in care to aspire to a university education.

She said: “I would like to encourage more people from the care system to think about going to university. I really want to help people, inspire people and give something back.

“When I was young and came out of care I always said that I wanted to do something for the children that are between the age of 14 and 21.

“There’s a gap in the care system; I was put into adult care such as hostels and was surrounded by women that had come from abuse and violence and I was only 14-years-old.

“I want to encourage these young people to push themselves and not give up on doing what they want to do, whether that’s university or something different such as an apprenticeship.

“I would like to get to those people and show them that although it’s a difficult time they can choose to pursue education and be successful. I’m proof that you can do it because I made the right choices.”

Posted on Wednesday 3rd October 2018

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