Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, etc.?

I’m a Gambian by birth, and I came here from West Africa in 2011. I was based in Sunderland at first, but then I started studying at Newcastle College around 2015, enrolling on a Level 2 Diploma in Health Studies. When I finished my Level 3 course, I progressed straight onto a Level 4 Healthcare Practice degree course at the University Centre, which I continue to do now at Level 5.

Why did you choose to step up to a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?

When I first spoke to my lecturers about wanting to progress onto a degree, I felt very supported, and that support continued throughout the application process and beyond. I suffer from mental health issues, such as anxiety, but I received counselling through Newcastle College and they were such an enormous help to me. They also helped me to secure extensions on certain assignments if I was having a tough time. My course tutors helped to guide me, and helped me decide that I wanted to become a nurse. Now, with their support and my hard work, I feel like I am achieving every goal they wanted for me, and that my career destination is within reach. I can’t thank the HE Team enough, they made sure I received all the support I needed, and I cannot praise or thank them highly enough.

What was it about this course that made you want to progress onto a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?

For me, it was a combination of the course content preparing us to go straight into the industry, and the unequalled support we received. If I hadn’t received such support from the University Centre staff, I would not have gone for my degree here. They helped me to feel comfortable here, and built up my confidence with their constant support and guidance. For example, they helped me to improve my computer skills throughout my degree, especially with all the fantastic computer facilities on the tenth floor of the Parsons Building, so I can confidently say I am at least 70% better compared to when I began my Level 4 course last year.

What benefits do you think there are in choosing to stay on to study at Newcastle College University Centre?

Where do I begin? There are lots of benefits, they are uncountable! If I were going to count them, it would take ten or twenty days to list them all, there are so many! Not just developing the skills and knowledge to progress your career, but also building your own personal confidence in yourself and your abilities. These helped me personally to build a strong foundation on which I will build my career and my life moving forward.

What are the facilities like at the University Centre for your course and as a student?

The facilities given to us, like Parsons floor ten, the IT rooms, the DNC, the health simulation suites, and the HE Hub are all fantastic. The specific tools and equipment we use can also be tailored to our needs: for example, I have a hip problem, so the HE Team provided me with a comfortable ergonomic chair and table that I can use to work. Everything I needed, they requested it, and once it came in, they made sure I was able to use it straight away – everything they did to help me had an immediate, 100% benefit to me.

What do you enjoy the most about your degree?

What I enjoy the most is the way I’ve developed and grown while studying at Newcastle College University Centre. My knowledge has grown significantly while I’ve studied here, which has really helped me to improve my skills and experience for the workplace. I know that when I enter the nursing field, I’ll be able to put what I know straight into practice to help people, especially if it were practical clinical work, like knowing PPE policies, maintaining hygienic standards in wards, or having good bedside manner.

What inspires you?

Honestly? The fantastic environment here at Newcastle College! Whenever I’ve met with Student Services, they are excellent, and very helpful. Ever since I started at Level 2, every single tutor or lecturer I’ve had has made every lesson so lively, so I’ve never been bored, and they are always more than willing to spend extra time helping us out with any problems or questions we have. Their drive inspires me, since they helped me to grow my own ambitions, while demonstrating the mixture of skills that I want to see in myself. The teaching staff always impress on us students that success comes through hard work, and that you don’t achieve if you don’t work hard. For me, that means spending four days a week working on Health and Social Care work, and the remaining day working with the English and maths team to complete my other assignments. But I always know that I’m comfortable and welcome here, and especially in Parsons Ten, since there is always someone there to comfort or support you through any assignments.

Tell us about how you have worked with industry whilst studying your degree (i.e. talks / live briefs / projects).

We’ve had quite a few talks and workshops through my time here. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend some of them at first, since I was previously an asylum seeker during my Level 2 and 3 courses, so I was only entitled to certain benefits. Thankfully, with the support of the University Centre team, I was able to continue onto a Level 4 degree course once my asylum had been granted, and together, they helped me to build up my confidence and motivation, and to address any mental health concerns I’ve had. Without the influence of my tutors, I would not be where I am, I owe absolutely everything to them. I’ve also had placements in Health and Social Care, while receiving support from college. There was also the Newcastle College University Centre Expo last week, where we got the chance to meet nurses, ex-nurses, and discuss their career paths, specialisms, and any advice they could give. They’ve also organised workshops on how to treat people through mental health, domestic abuse, or other major health concepts with industry professionals, which we can then share with the rest of our communities.

How do you think learning from industry experienced tutors has benefitted you?

It has benefitted me a lot. Next week, I’m going to interview at the University Centre for the next step in my nursing career – I wouldn’t be able to do that if the roots they’ve helped me grow at Newcastle College had been rotten. The base of specialist knowledge and skills I need for a healthcare career which I have gained at the University Centre is fantastic, and thanks to my tutors, I can achieve the degree I want to get into the place where I want to be.

How would you describe the staff at the University Centre?

They are all amazing. They are open-minded and liberal, diverse and energetic, and they are fully committed to British Values. When it is time for me to say prayers, they allow me to leave classes and go to the on-site prayer room without any objections. My tutors are delivering 100% what is expected of them, and then giving extra support with our assignments whenever we need it! They are open-minded, and always tell us what they want us to aspire to; yet they are also open to student feedback, since they are looking for ways to improve themselves so they can better help us. That ethos is really fantastic to find.

Have you overcome any challenges either before or whilst studying your degree?

Yes, but I don’t see challenges as a negative – they are just a fact of life. Nursing is a challenging career in many ways, and if I want to work in a public setting, then I must accept and rise to that challenge. My ability to overcome my own challenges – learning in a foreign language, dealing with anxiety, managing my disability (I have a hip problem) – means I am able to prove I am a dedicated professional, and that I can handle myself in the workplace. Since I’d like to work in public hospitals as a support worker, where I could be supporting patients with challenging behaviours, I must constantly triumph over adversity to prove my worth for tomorrow.

What kinds of support have you received during your studies?

I’ve received a lot of support due to my disability, as well as counselling through the University Centre team and HEST. The Learning Enhancement Coaches on Parsons floor ten have also been so helpful in supporting me with study skills and on my assignments. I also received a lot of guidance from the HE Team when I was applying for student finance. Safeguarding is also in place, so I can remember when I was having a problem on the tenth floor during a fire drill, the security team were there instantly to help me get downstairs, they provided me with a prop to lean on, and somewhere to sit when we reached the ground floor. Altogether, I couldn’t have asked for a better quality of support.

What has been the highlight of your time studying at Newcastle College University Centre?

Newcastle College has proven itself to be an excellent place of teaching – just see the latest OFSTED report. Asylum seekers, like me, don’t usually have English as a first language, but we are given access to the same level of education here as British national students, so we get the same opportunities to develop ourselves and fit into the community. What Newcastle College has provided me is a privilege, but one I know I am more than entitled to. We suffer, we make sure that we can improve our fluency and skills in the English language, so we can communicate confidently in speech and writing to any professional or political platform in which we are employed. I can say that I am very proud to have studied at Newcastle College University Centre, since they have helped me to become the best, most passionate worker and version of myself that I can be.

What’s Newcastle like as a student city, in your experience?

The staff at Newcastle College want every student to follow their policies and ethos in all ways, at all times, but in a diverse and respectful way. Every student is treated equally, so if anybody has not performed well, they face their own consequences. For healthcare, if there was ever any new COVID guidelines for colleges or universities, Newcastle College implemented it straight away, and made sure we all did as well. I’ve seen this kind of supportive attitude from people throughout the city, everyone I’ve met has been welcoming and friendly, and there are a lot of fantastic, diverse communities of people for everyone.

Newcastle is a very comfortable place, where everyone you meet will inspire or motivate you to do your best, and build your confidence in your own skills.

In what ways do you think your degree at Newcastle College University Centre has prepared you for employment?

My studies at the University Centre have been a massive help to my employment. It’s been an adventure! I’ve been able to prove the skills I showed in my interview, and develop those skills so I can be an even better candidate for future job applications. The HE Team at the University Centre take time to prepare you for everything, including interview techniques. In class, our lecturers of course ask questions that we can try to answer, but they are always open to being asked questions by us too – although most of the time, I don’t need to ask too many, since thanks to their brilliant teaching, the knowledge is already in my mind!

What are your plans after you graduate?

My plan is to be a nurse. For me to achieve my nursing qualification, I need to work hard to secure my diploma here. I’ve been given the privilege of learning at such a great institution as an asylum seeker, and I feel proud to be able to serve my community and this nation. I am here through personal development, and a real desire to support myself, the people around me, and my community, so I am always wondering how best I can serve my community, and in what ways I would be able to repay them.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about Steppin’ Up to a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?

I would say take your work seriously and avoid lateness. Make sure that you are in your learning areas long before lectures begin. You must be prepared: do your assignments to their deadlines, as punctuality is very important. Be attentive in class when a lecture is given, and listen to what your teachers are advising you, if you want to achieve your aims. Success comes through hard work, and business before pleasure, so if you don’t work hard, you won’t achieve your goals. Create for yourself a strong foundation that you will be able to build upon. Before you apply, do research and prepare yourself for exactly what you will be studying, and how you intend to do it. If you disagree with someone, don’t criticise them, but remain open-minded and ask them why they think the way they do; do not rush to judgement and condemnation. If you disagree, remember to always do so politely, without swearing or curse words. Most of all, remember that Newcastle College is a community, and you are a part of it: your behaviours impact everyone else around you. If you see someone is unhappy about something, either help them, or speak to your tutor or a member of the University Centre team to either report the problem, or get feedback on how best to help someone.

Describe your student experience in three words.

Dedicated. Compassionate. Confidence.

What are your top 5 tips for Steppin’ Up at Newcastle College?

  1. Work hard – you only get out what you put in.
  2. Pay attention to everything you’re taught – everything you learn from your course or your tutors’ experiences will help you in your career.
  3. Be punctual – it is important for completing work and for impressing employers.
  4. Make use of every resource offered to you – there are whole teams of people ready to help you if you just ask.
  5. Appreciate every moment you get here – learning can be a privilege, so be polite and respectful to everyone you come across.