Julie Cunningham

BSc (Hons) Environmental Science and Outdoor Education

United Kingdom

Julie Cunningham

I’d spent a number of years working in customer service and administration for a third sector organisation when I started participating and then volunteering with a local cycling group. As a result of the various volunteering experiences, I decided to look into doing a degree that would suit my desire to spend less time at an office desk and more time outdoors. I looked at University of Stirling’s website and discovered the Environmental Science/Geography degree with the option to combine this with Outdoor Education and contacted the admissions team with some questions. As a mature student with a background in tourism, customer service and administration, I was concerned that I wouldn’t cope with the jump into science. As a result of that conversation, I applied to West Lothian College for a place on their SWAP Access to Biological Sciences course which was a fantastic course and set me up very well for starting university.

University of Stirling was my first choice for a variety of reasons, and after visiting each university that I applied to at least once at open days, it still came out on top. As well as being a beautiful campus within easy commuting distance for me (very important as a Mum of three with work and volunteering commitments!), every single person I spoke to at Stirling was welcoming, supportive and genuinely seemed happy to be there.

Now that I’ve reached the end of my second year, I’ve learnt a lot about myself in my time at University of Stirling to date. I’ve still got a lot to learn academically, personally and professionally and the lecturers are always willing to make time to answer questions and give lots of encouragement to ask. I’ve secured two voluntary work placements for summer 2021 - the modules I’ve completed to date, for example Practical Field Skills and Development and Application of Outdoor Education, have provided me with valuable knowledge that I can use and put into practice in a real-world scenario. The experiences I’ll get from the placement will hopefully be useful in future modules and give me the opportunity to develop valuable skills gained from the degree to date.

As a result of leaving my full-time employment to return to studying, I now work part-time for Cycling UK. I think that the overall degree experience so far has definitely been an asset to my work. I’m more confident and more likely to speak publicly; I’m more willing to make suggestions; more likely to question and research for original sources of data; and I find it easier to work on a task with people that I don’t know well.

I’ve recently been awarded the Bronze level My Stirling Award. There is a minimum requirement to complete 50 hours over 2 activities during the academic year – I was completely surprised to discover when finally tallying up the hours to submit with the reflective statements that I had completed 162 hours between September and March. The skills I’ve developed through the My Stirling Award have supported my part-time job as well as improving my confidence in my academic abilities.

The degree and My Stirling Award has helped me to recognise my personal strengths and areas for improvement and I’ve been able to put these developing skills in use through my volunteering and also in my part-time job.