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Paola Cassarino

Level 4 Events Management and Hospitality

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Paola Cassarino

Paola studies Events Management and Hospitality at Newcastle College University Centre. She Stepped Up to a degree after studying at Newcastle College. Find out what she has to say about her time learning with us.

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

I’m not originally from England, I’m from South America, so my first language is Spanish. I’ve been living in the UK for about six years now. I started in high school when I first arrived in the UK, and then progressed onto college, which was a big change for me since I didn’t have a lot of friends at high school since I found it difficult to communicate in English. For me, coming to Newcastle College for Level 2 was a much-needed fresh start. Once I’d gotten to know my teachers, I felt really settled in the environment, and became great friends with my classmates. I knew I wanted to study Travel and Tourism, and I knew a lot of people that I knew were steppin’ up to Level 4 degree courses, so applied to the University Centre, and haven’t looked back.

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

I already knew my lecturers on the degree course, and they really talked to me during tutorials about what my next steps could be, and why studying a degree course would benefit me. Even before I applied for the Newcastle College University Centre, I’d already had a lot of discussions with my tutors about what the degree course would be like, and that kind of one-to-one care and provision really appealed to me. I felt very comfortable coming to the University Centre after that, since I knew the people here and I felt comfortable with the teaching. I didn’t want to move away from that, and have to start somewhere new all over again, so I continued on at the Newcastle College University Centre, with all the support I could ever have wanted.

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

I was really interested in the topics we covered on the degree course, since every module seemed tailored to giving us the best knowledge base and practical experience to build a career in the hospitality industry. I thought this would be the best way to help me reach my goals for the future, since I aspire to reach a management role once I progress into the workplace. The more hands-on teaching and learning style also felt more beneficial to me, since the work-focused environment seemed most beneficial to me in preparing for professional employment, and my course in particular felt especially tailored to that end.

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

Choosing to stay on, you’ll already be pretty familiar with the teaching staff and confident in their ability and your own capacity to learn from them. The students in your classes are probably the same classmates you’ve had before, or at least a handful of them, so you’ll know and feel comfortable studying alongside the people there. Overall, I think that makes Newcastle College University Centre that much more comfortable a place to study, since you’ll have a greater degree of certainty about what it’s like to study at the University Centre, so the transition from college life to university life becomes much easier since we get a greater understanding of what comes next.

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

We have Parsons tenth floor, and also a dedicated degree students’ common room in the Lifestyle Academy. For my course at least, I feel like the facilities we have are a little more limited than at larger universities since we have a much smaller campus. On the other hand, I feel like the network of industry connections at Newcastle College University Centre are actually far better than I’d get anywhere else, but with the added benefit of smaller classes so more one-to-one help and tailored advice from our tutors. So I think the quality teaching, level of support from staff, and commitment to helping us clarify our future career paths more than compensates for a relative lack of facilities.

What do you enjoy the most about your degree?

My subject itself. I really like what I’m studying, and I am motivated and fully dedicated to reach my goals through my degree. I always get lots of support from my lecturers since we’re all in such a small class, so whenever we need help, we can get our tutors’ full focus and attention. Whenever I’ve had an issue, I know I can always text one of my lecturers and I’d get a comprehensive response within hours, or even a chance to meet in person to discuss the problem. I also feel a lot more comfortable around my classmates thanks to the smaller class sizes, since I’m far more familiar with everyone because we see each other every day.

What inspires you?

I enjoy serving others, which I see as the core belief of my degree course, and of Newcastle College University Centre as a whole. I take a lot of pride and pleasure from making other people happy with the work I do, or the help I can provide. My degree is preparing me for what is a very customer-focused service role, and while some people might find that level of commitment intimidating, I relish the chance to do a job well, since I think specialising my skillset will really bring the best out of me. The moral support I get from my lecturers and the University Centre staff more generally is great encouragement to me, since they can remind me that any skills I don’t have right now, I will develop in the future, which will only help my career flourish even more.

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

We had a few guest speakers come in at Level 3, and we’ve had a couple each semester since I started Level 4. I also did some work experience at Level 3, which led onto my current job working at a restaurant in Jesmond. In classes and guest lectures, we talk a lot about how to build a productive work environment, and how to develop useful skills for the workplace – everything we learn is very practical, and very much centred around moving our skills into a professional role as a manager, mentor, or coach. The high standard of teaching at Newcastle College University Centre has helped me to develop confidence in my ability, and a clear sense of direction for the next steps in my career, and exactly how to attain them.

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

Our tutors obviously have so much valuable experience and knowledge, and they always have something interesting to add to our discussions. I think you can really tell the difference between a tutor who hasn’t worked in the hospitality industry for too long, compared to our lecturers, who have so many years of experience. For me, the lecturers with the most industry experience are the most helpful, but also the most fun, since they can share a lot of anecdotes from their time in industry. I also like how every lecturer at the University Centre, regardless of the length of time they spent in industry, can have a different experience of the hospitality sector, and so bring their own attitudes and insights into their teaching styles, which makes learning from them a much more enriching experience overall. The main benefit of industry experienced tutors, though, is that they know exactly how the degree course can practically lead you down different avenues within the hospitality sector, and so will go out of their way to help you secure the best opportunities possible for whatever you want to do.

How would you describe the staff at the University Centre?

Very friendly! I don’t just mean the Travel and Tourism department or the HE Team, but everyone who works at Newcastle College University Centre. I tend to lose my student ID badge a lot, but one of the Lifestyle Academy receptionists knows me so well because of it that she’ll always be ready to print out a new ID card whenever I leave mine at home. That’s just one example of how every member of staff really made me feel welcome, and a part of a true community at Newcastle College University Centre.

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

I think before I started my degree, I really lacked confidence in myself. High school was a difficult time for me, since I struggled a bit with English and didn’t have too many friends. Coming to Newcastle College for Level 3 changed everything – I got the best fresh start, made some amazing new friends, and found a welcoming and supportive community that helped me to build my self-confidence, made me comfortable around others, and improved my ability to work and learn in English as my second language. Coming into the University Centre, I feel confident about communicating, writing reports, compiling portfolios, and any other work that my degree throws my way. My degree still remains challenging though, largely because I hold myself to a high standard, and I always want to ensure my work meets university academic levels. Thanks to the one-to-one guidance I receive from my tutors at Newcastle College University Centre, I can always reiterate and realise this belief, because I get lots of personalised guidance on how to improve my work and take my studies to the next level.

What kinds of support have you received during your studies?

For me, the support I’ve received has mostly been academic. I always want to know more about my subject, so I’m constantly asking my lecturers about all my assessments and the latest news from the industry. I’ve received a lot of emotional support from my course tutors as well, since whenever we have tutorials, we don’t just talk about the academic side of things, but also pastoral care issues like how I’m getting on with my classmates, my confidence levels about certain topics, and my mental health too. It’s quite impressive how every member of University Centre staff goes out of their way to care for all aspects of student wellbeing, and support each student no matter what as an individual, and not just a potential grade.

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

I think my favourite part of the degree was the very beginning. While it was obviously a degree, there wasn’t so much pressure to ace our studies right away, and instead our tutors encouraged us to strengthen our social networks across the University Centre for our own health and wellbeing. One thing I loved about Travel and Tourism in particular is that we had a lot of international students like me, so there was a very mixed class. In my class alone, we had people from Portugal, the Czech Republic, and Romania, so it was personally reassuring to know there were other people like me who studied at Newcastle College University Centre, despite not having English as their first language or culture. I’ve also enjoyed the trips we’ve been on, the first to London City Airport and the other to Manchester International Airport, since they gave us a lot more insight into how the degree might practically benefit us in future jobs.

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

There’s definitely a lot for students to do here! The city is absolutely full of places you can go to sit down, maybe to get some food or a drink, or to do your work outside of the main University Centre campus. If you ever want a new environment to work in, there are so many other places you could go. The Newcastle nightlife is truly fantastic, with loads of places you can go out with friends, but even the daytime activities are great if your class ever wants to organise a trip out somewhere. For me, Newcastle isn’t just a student city, since there are so many parks, cinemas and galleries nearby that there are so many great options of places to go to meet up with friends.

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

I think my degree course has prepared me for entering the managerial role that I want. My tutors and I have spoken extensively about the professional skills and personal qualities I will need to be a competitive applicant in the hospitality industry. The beauty of a Travel and Tourism degree at Newcastle College University Centre is that, by combining the latest industry knowledge with a focus on practical skills, you’re being prepared not to be an average employee, but an industry leader. The experience I’ve gained studying at the University Centre is obviously important, but having that additional base of theory and industry knowledge is what, I believe, will really give me an edge in reaching my career goals.

What are your plans after you graduate?

As things stand right now, I plan to have a gap year and do volunteer work. I’ve done volunteering before, so I think I’d like to return to that work. I’d like to gain experience, but I’d also really like to live up to the ‘travel’ part of ‘Travel and Tourism’ first, so when I enter industry or come back to Newcastle College University Centre to study a higher level, I’ll have the work and life experience that will really reinforce my credibility in the tourism industry. In terms of where I’ll go, I’d like to travel around England, since while studying at Newcastle College, I’ve only really moved between London and Newcastle. If I ever want to travel outside of England, I might go to Spain since I’ve never been there before, or maybe Italy since I have family over there. I’d also like to go to parts of South America since I’m fluent in Spanish – maybe Mexico? Then I’d like to travel around parts of the USA, since I’ve been to Los Angeles, but I’d like to explore that country some more – maybe even find some more places that I’d like to go along the way!

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

My advice is to remember that you are an independent student now. You are responsible for the outcome of your studies, and at this point, it’s more important than that’s ever been before. Your actions now will shape your future, so take them seriously! If studying for a degree qualification is really what you want, then get ready – at Newcastle College University Centre, you’ll have teachers, classmates, and friends who can and will support you through any challenges to reach whatever goals you set for yourself. Also, don’t be scared about making mistakes. The first semester, or even the first year, of university is going to be tough, but if you really want to study this course, then you can 100% tackle it, and achieve whatever goal you want, but only if you apply yourself.

Describe your student experience in three words.

Supported. Amazing. Difficult.

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

Get a good computer.

Don’t worry if your friends aren’t doing the same course or modules you’re doing.

Be ready to work hard.

Get into reading as soon as you can, and read as much as you can.

Learn what time management is.