Getting back into education as a Grandmother of four can be a daunting experience, but for Siobhan McCartney from Newtownbutler, it turned out to be one of the best decisions she has ever made.
Having completed her GCSE English and Maths at South West College, Siobhan progressed via an Access Diploma in Social Sciences and Humanities at the Enniskillen campus. Following this, she achieved a Foundation Degree in Science in Health and Social Care and progressed to Ulster University, earning a BSc Honours degree in Health and Well-being. She is now working in the Health and Social Care sector with Trinity Social Care Services under the direction of Tusla.
Reflecting on her career transformation, Siobhan said: "I never dreamt that it would be possible to achieve all this! When I was 16, I left education and started working full time and then along came the children. It wasn't until I completed an NVQ in Catering and Hospitality at SWC that I saw how easily the young and old could learn together."
A few years later, Siobhan joined the Access course, for free.
She said: "For mature learners, who may not have formal qualifications, the Access course is an excellent stepping stone into higher education, as it provides the equivalent of 3 Levels and can be studied full or part-time, allowing you to juggle work and family commitments at ease. The best part is everyone has the same goal; their fears and yours are the same, which enables you to achieve your best.
Siobhan progressed onto the Foundation Degree in Science in Health and Social Care at the Enniskillen campus, where she went on to achieve 'Student of the Year'.
She said: "I could talk about the College forever, from the first day I arrived to my last. It has been an incredible journey, both personally and professionally. I thought it could not get any better than the Access course, but the Foundation Degree in Science in Health and Social Care made you dig deeper to do your best. It is SWCs hidden gem! Each module gave me a great insight and prepared me with the knowledge, skills, experience, attitude and values needed to succeed in my second-year placement and how to cope with challenging situations.
Reflecting on her journey she said, “It was not all plain sailing! At a point, I was ready to throw in the towel, but I knew this career journey was worth the challenge and the lectures and the library team were very understanding. Having never turned on a computer or sent an email, they had great patience for those struggling like me. It is fair to say their exemplary support enabled me to overcome my fears about technology.”
Siobhan also benefitted from additional support when her lecturers helped formally identify dyslexia.
She said, "They arranged for an assessment so that support could be put in place while writing assignments. This was an immense help, transforming my learning experience and improving my overall health and well-being. It also made a significant positive change in my attitude towards learning.”
Siobhan is now incredibly complimentary of the teaching she has received and said: “Without SWC, all this would not have been possible! They prepared and built my confidence, enabling me to achieve 'student of the year' and further my studies to achieve a BSc Honours. I will forever be grateful to the staff and tutors, who supported and guided me in the right direction. They are just an incredible support system that greatly believes in their student's abilities and works on their strengths, enabling them to achieve their best.”
Reflecting on the experience and how far she has come, Siobhan replied, saying, "I am so glad I didn't let my fears prevent me from returning to education, as the experience has been life-changing, it has given me a second chance." She added: "the prospect of returning to study after so many years seemed daunting, but the advice I would give anyone - is go for it! Only yourself is holding you back, and every little step turns into big steps.
For any student working towards Nursing or Social Work at University, my advice is to do this foundation Degree, as the work placement in the second year is a fantastic opportunity, which in turn enabled me to get the job that I am presently employed to do. It also prepared and supported me throughout my Degree in Jordanstown."
Siobhan now hopes to return to the College to further her studies and has her sights set on the BSc Hons Social Work degree.
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