Katie Cattanach

MSc in Human Animal Interaction

Gaining a Master’s degree once seemed like an impossible feat for one University of Stirling graduate who struggled with dyslexia throughout school and questioned her academic abilities.

Katie Cattanach joined Stirling in 2009 through the University’s Wider Access Programme, which supports adult learners’ entry into higher education.

“As a dyslexic student I struggled at school. I was always in the bottom class and my confidence in that environment was knocked. I loved learning but being made fun of by my peers, and sometimes the teacher, put me off. At that point in my life, University was not an option available to me,” Katie said.

After completing the access programme, the 32-year-old achieved a Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Psychology and was one of five students to receive a bursary from the Psychology division.

In the final year of her undergraduate degree, Katie and her classmates received a commendation for their work in peer-led teaching with younger students. And Katie has now added a Master’s degree in Human Animal Interaction to her list of academic accolades.

“My experience at school always stuck with me and made me want to help other children who do not fit the educational norm. In the final year of my undergraduate degree I was introduced to human-animal interaction and quickly realised there was a unique take on education to be explored – using animals to help children read with confidence.

“During my postgraduate course, I carried out a study in Raploch Primary School with a local charity, Canine Concern, who use therapy dogs as reading assistants. We found children who interacted with dogs while reading had fewer errors. It was great to see how animals can empower children to learn. The kids were so motivated and excited to read, when before they had been apprehensive. It was a lovely experience.”

Katie is among the first cohort of the Master’s in Human Animal Interaction to graduate and her Stirling journey doesn’t stop there. She has now taken up a position with the University as an Ambitious Futures Graduate.

This highly competitive graduate programme for University leadership welcomes one candidate each year to work on a number of projects within the sector.

Katie is working with Student Learning Services to enhance student learning and increase academic confidence among first-year students, before she moves to Glasgow University in January to complete her placement.

Originally from London, Katie now lives in Cumbernauld and commuted from the Borders throughout her one-year postgraduate course.

She continued: “I faced many challenges as a student: there was lots of travelling and logistical challenges co-ordinating activities with the school and the charity. Being dyslexic also brings its own challenges, especially in an academic setting, but you learn to work with it. I overcame this using the support put in place for me and my positive mind-set. I don’t look at dyslexia as a disability but as an opportunity to see things differently.

“My time at Stirling has changed my experience of education and allowed me to see what I am truly capable of. I was encouraged and supported throughout my studies and received excellent support from the disability service. All of this has inspired me to go further in education and I’m proud to be part of such a great institution.”

An advocate of the University’s Access Programme, Katie goes back to the classes to talk about her experience and attends events to promote the Ambitious Futures University graduate programme.

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