Tag Archives: disability support

A ’late learner’ looks to counsel others to achieve great things

Nikesha Morris always knew she had it in her to learn despite only learning to read and write at ten years old. Graduating this week with a BA Psychosocial Studies and Principles of Psychodynamic Counselling degree, she’s setting an example on how to overcome life’s obstacles. This is her #BBKstory.

Nikesha Morris in graduation cap and gown

Ten years’ experience working in schools, supporting parents and students with their wellbeing, alongside having a natural capacity for advising others, provides Nikesha Morris with an ideal platform to pursue her goals in the field of counselling. Advising and supporting people has always been a key driver for her relationships with others.

Having recently completed a BA in Psychosocial Studies and Principles of Psychodynamic Counselling, she’s setting herself up well to progress her career and expand her support network.

With a baby on the way and raising “two beautiful children” with her husband, it’s difficult to imagine Nikesha facing any predicaments as she cheerily speaks of her husband trying to calm her down with her plans post-graduation: “I’m already planning and he’s right to say: ‘No. We don’t want to go through that again’. He tells me: ‘Just give yourself a break’, but I don’t want to. I mean, initially when I started this course, I wanted to go to PhD level. I’ve always viewed myself as a doctor or psychotherapist…something along those lines.”

Yet academic accomplishments eluded her during the earlier years of her education and life didn’t always appear so rosy. She explains: “There were very high expectations from my mum and she would just say, ‘Oh she can do it!’ I felt really embarrassed knowing that deep down I couldn’t do it. I was bullied in school. I was called ‘dunce’ as well. I wasn’t the smartest in class and it was quite a struggle which knocked my confidence.”

It wasn’t until Nikesha was working through her degree at Birkbeck, in 2018, that she reached out and received the necessary support from services at the College, and learnt that she was dyslexic. It led her to reflect on those earlier years of ‘poor achievement’: It’s funny because I felt it deep down throughout my whole childhood, I’ve always wanted to get to the next stage (of education), but I knew I didn’t have it in me and I didn’t have the support. I think moving to a new country from Jamaica, with new opportunities, kind of put me into a new dynamic and new mindset where I just thought: you know what…this is an opportunity and I’m going to try and see if I can catch up on what I’ve missed out on.”

Recognising and understanding the core of those earlier issues has given her some peace and she’s keen to use this personal learning to apply to her career. She’s also aware that a strong support system goes a long way in helping to achieve your goals in life.

“Anything is possible with organisations such as Birkbeck. It’s good to be honest in your own abilities and accept help wherever possible. There’s no shame in gaining knowledge from others, and it’s never too late, no matter what age you are or what your position is. Doing my degree at Birkbeck has been a life changing experience. It’s been fraught with lots of challenges, but in those I’ve found growth through a renewed effort, reaffirmation of self-belief, and most of all faith. I kind of feel like it was an experience that was needed.”

This week, she’s leaving her adversities in the past, including years of depression, a recent diagnosis of bipolar and fighting homelessness; and is setting her sights firmly on more positive things, with graduation being the first stop:

“Gosh, this means everything. When I clicked the submission button on my final assignment and I knew that I was coming to the end of my degree…when I received the graduation email and my grades… I was like ‘Oh my God’. It was one of the best moments of my life. Elation cannot come close to describing the feeling of achievement and reaching the summit, so to speak. It really does drive home the mantra of being halfway up the mountain, you know, keep going, never give up and just continue on the path to success.”

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From leaving education at 15, to graduating with a Psychology degree

Anna Green is graduating this week with BSc in Psychology. Here she tells her story of her struggles with mental health growing up, her unconventional education path, and how Birkbeck’s Disability Service was instrumental in her ADHD diagnosis and her achieving a First-Class Honours. This is her #BBKstory.

Anna Green

I grew up in a working-class family, as an only child to a single mother. We moved around a lot, and I went to four primary schools in different parts of the country so I had a very disrupted education which lacked routine and consistency. I think this had quite a big knock-on impact as I found secondary school hard and I struggled to fit in. As a teenager, I could barely concentrate, got into fights with other children and by the age of fourteen was struggling severely with my mental health. Everything became overwhelming, which led to me spending four months in a mental health unit, and later that year, I lost my father to cancer. By the age of fifteen I had left mainstream education for good.

Aged 19, the opportunity to study GCSE’s and A-Levels at college arose and I studied for six GCSEs and two AS Levels. However, I lacked in direction and motivation, and abandoned education once again, working in hospitality until the age of 23 when I decided to give it another shot. I took a free, online Open University access course in People, Work and Society and once I completed that was delighted when Birkbeck accepted my application to study BSc Psychology. I knew psychology was the course I wanted to study because my teenage years were defined by my battles with mental health and I’ve always wanted to use my experiences to help other people going through similar challenges.

University was a turning point for me, as it was when I established my identity and got to know myself a bit more. It was a relief to be settled somewhere and be independent. I made friends quickly through group projects and I really enjoyed being around a range of people from interesting backgrounds. Being in the centre of London, with the British Library and nice pubs in Bloomsbury, meant I could socialise easily with people on my course. My days were busy but rewarding: I spent a few days a week working as a support worker for people who had acquired brain injuries, which was relevant to my degree and an opportunity that I stumbled across at Birkbeck’s annual Careers Fair. I also volunteered for Childline as a counsellor and tutored primary school children maths online through the pandemic. The great thing about Birkbeck is that it really allows you to balance work, volunteering and studying.

Unfortunately, in my second year, I began to struggle in familiar ways. The lack of focus was something I knew went beyond just a disrupted education and at times, an unstable childhood and I was finally diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I found my diagnosis helped me understand myself, but I did find it hard to accept for about a year. I applied for Disabled Student’s Allowance and was granted weekly study skills support and a mentor. Mark Pimm, Birkbeck’s Disability Service Manager, was so supportive and oversaw this process and advocated for me to receive all the help possible, such as deadline extensions; extra time in exams; useful computer software and equipment; study skills support; and a mentor. With the help of Birkbeck’s Disability Service, I was able to graduate with a First-Class Honours in Psychology.

I am grateful to Birkbeck for normalising mature study, providing opportunities for those who may not have perfect grades and factoring in a person’s life experience when accepting applicants. I have met some wonderful people who I’m still in touch with now, and I’ve learned that there is no time limit on education, and sometimes it’s best to wait until you feel ready to give it a go. In future, I would like to do a Master’s in Forensic Psychology and get a place on the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. I couldn’t recommend Birkbeck enough to any mature student and my confidence has transformed over the last three years.

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“Without Birkbeck’s disability service, I wouldn’t have finished my degree”

Ryan Wilson recently graduated with a First in BSc Economic and Social Policy, after overcoming a number of adversities, including leaving school with no qualifications and becoming seriously ill after a drug trial went wrong. Here is his #BBKgrad story.

Ryan Wilson

Ryan was born and raised in Islington and describes his background as “working class and economically deprived”. He came out of school with no GCSEs. In a bid to earn money, he took part in a drug trial in 2006 which went catastrophically wrong. Suffering multiple organ failures, as well as loosing parts of his fingers and toes, Ryan now faces his legs being amputated in the future. Ryan explains, “I felt at the time my whole life had been wiped away from me, and I’m still not over it and to be honest never fully will be. I had planned for years to become a plumber and could no longer pursue this career path due to my injuries.”

A few years later, in 2012, Ryan had a son. He describes this as a pivotal moment: “I just wanted to prove to my son that anyone can change their life circumstance if they try hard enough. I believe everyone has potential, just for a lot of people its untapped. I’d been wanting to study economics for a number of years but hadn’t had the confidence to and being a student was a different world to the one I knew. I started researching how to become an economist and saw I had to get GCSEs, A Levels and a degree. So, in 2012, I started studying for my GCSEs. I managed to obtain an A* in English and a B in Maths so I progressed onto study Economics A Level. I’d never studied so much in my life but my hard graft meant I achieved an A. I had the most amazing teacher, who encouraged me to apply to Birkbeck, saying that they’d consider my application.”

In 2016, Ryan started his part-time BSc Economic and Social Policy degree, alongside working as an independent prison monitor, ensuring the decency of prisons and humane treatment of prisoners. He explains: “I had textbooks glued to me throughout my degree and entered a wormhole of reading. I worked so hard and loved the lectures – my favourite modules were Economics and Public Policy, and Macroeconomic Theory and Policy. I struggled in my second year with studying for my degree and overcoming some personal hurdles, but the support I received from the disability team and the mental health service really increased my confidence and drive to succeed. Mark Pimm, the Disability Service Manager, gave me hope in a sea of uncertainty. He encouraged me not to quit and without him and his team, I wouldn’t have completed my degree.”

Ryan graduated in November, winning the prize for the best final year Economics and Social Policy student. Describing his future plans, he says, “I want to work in politics and next week I’ve got an interview for my dream job in the civil service, working for the Department of International Trade. I’m busy writing a book about my life journey and how policy impacts the lives of people. In the future, I want to get into motivational speaking because I want to help others and be a voice for the under-represented groups that I’m part of.”

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