A mum-of-two who was made redundant from her job as a call-centre chef has cooked up a career change by completing a degree at Sunderland University.
Despite not having been in education since leaving catering college as a teenager, Maria Freeman, 40, was undeterred and signed up to an Access to Higher Education Course at Sunderland College.
It was during her course that she found out more about a Public Health Undergraduate Degree at the University of Sunderland, which she felt suited her experience and skills in health and safety.
Three years later and all her hard work has paid off as she graduates with a First Class Honours degree today, which she described as “life-changing” at the annual award ceremonies at the Stadium of Light.
She also found the confidence at the end of the ceremony to give the ‘Vote of thanks’ to staff on behalf of hundreds of graduating students from the Faculty of Applied Sciences, receiving their degrees from Chancellor Steve Cram.
“It’s an incredibly proud day for me, achieving a First Class degree was an amazing feeling and worth all the hard work,” said Maria.
“Redundancy came as a blow, but also gave me the opportunity I needed to change my career and get into Higher Education.”Maria Freeman
“I never would have imagined myself standing on that platform, before hundreds of fellow students and staff to give the Vote of Thanks, but it shows how much I’ve developed as a person and the incredible journey I’ve been on.”
She added: “Coming to University was the best decision I ever made,” said Maria, from Sunderland.
“Redundancy came as a blow, but also gave me the opportunity I needed to change my career and get into Higher Education.
“Of course, I was nervous at first and wasn’t sure I’d get through the course, but it’s about putting the work in and I found myself getting really good grades, which motivated me even more.”
Maria will now embark on a Post Compulsory Education and Training (PCET) course at the University, which will provide her with the qualifications to teach and train others in public health.
“Teaching public health was never something I set out to have a career in, but the course seemed to lead me in this direction and I couldn’t be happier,” added Maria.
Maria picked up the teaching bug while on placement in the University’s Point of Care Centre, which delivers education and training to those involved in patient care using the latest technology to enhance treatment and diagnosis for patients.
Standing before a class of First Year students and delivering a public health lecture gave her confidence and acknowledged the personal progress she had made to go on to the next level.
Maria also says her children, aged 12 and 15, were at the heart of her decision to make a better life for them and also encourage them to go to University.
“I wanted to be a role model for them and they are really proud of what I’m doing.
“I’ve managed to juggle my studies while they’re at school and it’s worked out really well.
“When I was young, university wasn’t even a consideration, but I really want both my children to go.
“They were very proud of me today.”
In addition to the skill’s she’s developed in the classroom, from critical thinking to research, Maria also says she’s made life-long friends and even embraced a much more healthy lifestyle, through joining the university gym.
She added: “I would encourage anyone to step out of your comfort zone and just go for it.
“University will develop your confidence and anyone is capable, regardless of age.”