‘Special’ student Serena keen to repay college for saving her life
Serena Torrance, in her own words, was ‘lost’. She was suffering from severe depression following the death of a close friend. Some days she could barely get out of bed, she had let schoolwork slide, was totally disengaged and saw no purpose to her life.
But despite not achieving her AS exams, at interview for a BTEC Applied Science (Forensic) course, Bridgend College recognised in Serena a young woman who needed a break.
College section leader Sara Davies now admits: “It was one of the best decisions I ever made!”
Serena’s growth and development have been extraordinary. She completed her BTEC Applied Science and National Diploma and Advanced Diploma Welsh Baccalaureate with outstanding grades in 2011 and won a coveted place at Cardiff University where she is expected to gain a first class honours degree in Criminology this summer before starting a Masters in September.
But more than that, Serena, now aged 23, has been a pillar of strength to fellow students. She has been able to draw on her own background of overcoming psychological challenges to influence a boy who lacked confidence and motivation.
Her educational journey has won her a place in the final of this year’s prestigious VQ (Vocational Qualification) Awards in Wales. She is one of six finalists in the running to become VQ Learner of the Year at the showpiece awards ceremony on June 9, the eve of VQ Day, at St David’s Hotel, Cardiff.
Organised by the Welsh Government’s Department for Education and Skills (DfES), the National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW) and CollegesWales, the VQ Awards help to showcase individuals and organisations that have raised the standard of the services they offer as a result of vocational qualifications.
The awards, which are part funded by the European Social Fund, are now in their eighth year and coincide with Vocational Qualifications Day – a UK-wide celebration of vocational qualifications for students, teachers, training providers and employers – which is held on June 10.
Sara said: “Serena stated that coming to college saved her life: after years of being on medication and counselling, she was signed off by her medical teams. The course gave her a purpose and we are so proud of her.”
Serena continues to support the college as a student ambassador. “She supports our learners with great maturity and knowledge in the field of forensic science,” said Sara. “There is something special about her. I am sure she will be a resounding success.”
Serena said: “Without Bridgend College I don’t know where I’d be. Severe depression cost me almost two years of education and now I’d like to repay the college by one day lecturing there in forensics.”
The other VQ Learner of the Year finalists are: Casey Coleman, 28, salon artistic director at Ocean Hairdressing, Cardiff; James Pepper, 39, technical services director at Vista Retail Support Ltd, Pentwyn, Cardiff; Paul Wiggins, 35, from Cardiff, a chartered insurance broker at BPW Insurance Services, Newport; former Bridgend College learner Michael Whippey, 23, a chief instructor at Shardeloes Farm Equestrian Centre, Amersham and former Coleg Sir Gar learner Simon McCall, 21, from Capel Dewi near Carmarthen, a self-employed carpenter and member of the WorldSkills UK Squad.
The VQ Learner the Year Award recognises learners who clearly demonstrate progression and excellence in vocational studies and have made considerable achievements in their field.
Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology, Julie James congratulated Serena and her fellow VQ Awards finalists.
“A VQ Award is more than just an award; it’s a symbol of dedication towards your chosen profession,” she said. “Professional and personal development programmes are utilised for staff to enable them to follow a pathway of learning to meet company, customer and individual needs.
“The VQ Awards help us to celebrate those Welsh employers and learners who are already going that extra mile when it comes to developing vocational skills and qualifications.
“If the Welsh economy is to continue to grow then we must ensure that employers, individuals and the Welsh Government work together to invest in the right skills for success in order to equip Wales with a world class work force.”