Psychology student Donna is one of Arden University’s exceptional students, currently achieving what they were born to do.
Having overcome a challenging start to life that limited Donna’s mobility, social skills, and confidence in herself, she’s come back firing later on in life.
Donna has consistently proved her doubters wrong as she now works part-time helping children in schools, runs marathons in her spare-time, and is studying for a degree with us to help others in the future.
We recently caught up with Donna to hear more about her incredible story, her experience with Arden, and how she set about getting her confidence back. Read more about her below.
What's your name? And what are you studying with us?
Hello, my name is Donna, and I'm studying psychology with counselling. I started in April this year.
You get an introduction to psychology and learn about the different terminology, about people's characteristics, research and research methods as well.
How have you found studying with Arden?
It's just opened up my world. Before this, I didn't have anything. I was always told that I could never do anything because of my disabilities, and now it's like I can breathe, it's like somebody's taken notice of me.
I was nobody before. Everybody told me “Oh, no, you can't do this. you can't do that.” But it feels like it's my time now. With Arden, it's like they’re holding my hand and saying “Come on, you can do this.”
And, at times, it does get hard, but I just love it. It’s a great atmosphere. I know who to go to. I know who to talk through, and it just makes me feel like I belong.
What led you to choose to study with Arden?
Arden offered a part-time online course and because I've got disability, I knew I couldn't go on campus and keep up with the pace.
I also work part-time, in education with children who have challenging behaviours, and I wanted to keep working. So, I went down to three days working, and two days studying with Arden.
What was the most important thing that you were looking for in a University?
I was looking something I could trust. With others it felt like they would enrol you and forget about you. But with Arden, it looked like they would invest in you. You can go on a journey and afterwards, if I wanted to go for Masters, or do anything else, I knew that I would be capable of it because they would help me carry on if I wanted to.
Is that something you're looking at?
Yeah, I've got the taste for it now!
What challenges have you overcome in the past?
I've gone through a lot of discrimination. Especially because I'm not supposed to be here. When I was 18 months old, I had severe meningitis and fits to the brain. I was in a coma. At that time, they said, If I live I would be like a cabbage. But I came through that, and I went through everything.
I couldn't walk, I couldn't do anything. And that's why I do lots of walking and running, because nothing's going to stop me.
And that's why, I have this in me that this is my time now, that I can make a difference, and people shouldn't allow anything to stop them.
If you had to sum up your experience with Arden in three words, what would they be?
Enlightening, amazing, and comforting. Arden is like my comfort blanket.
Why do you feel comforted?
Because they're with you every step of the way. I never had anybody with me, and never had anybody interested in what I was doing. But Arden takes an interest in me. They're like, “Okay, what point are you at now? What do you need help on?”
You’ve got the inclusion team, the success coaches who are with you all the way, and then the individual tutors for the modules who always go the extra mile. You can always ring student support too. The list is endless.
You mentioned a bit a bit before about your experience in the past and how people doubted you. Can you tell us a bit about how that made you feel growing up around that?
I used to shut myself in my room and even if friends or family came round I didn't want to interact, because I couldn't I couldn't even say my sister's name. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get my words out. Nobody understood how I was feeling.
I saw everybody interacting, and there was me and I believed what they said.
I didn't know me then, but I know me now. And with Arden, it's like they allowed me to discover that maybe, because I took that leap of faith to go and start that course. Because I thought to myself: “Do the degree.”
Sometimes I’m wondering am I dreaming, and I’m pinching myself. But no, I'm doing a degree!
How did you go about getting your confidence back then?
I did my childcare qualification. Then, when I passed that, I thought maybe I can do something else. After that I changed jobs and where I'm working now is absolutely amazing in terms of pushing you to go and get qualifications. So, I kept on doing things online and then I went to Arden.
And I just kept on going and I kept on passing. So, the confidence started coming, and people were saying congratulations. It wasn't always easy to learn all of the information, because of my disabilities, but I stuck at it.
How does it feel to be tasked with a sense of leadership towards your own learning?
It's my rules and it means it feels like it's time for me to take the reins. Before, I allowed other people to control my life, and I never had the voice, but now I've got a voice, you know? And that's why I'm here.
I think it's more rewarding. I'm putting more into my efforts and I'm seeing where it goes as well.
Why do you feel higher education has been empowering for you?
Because it can make a difference. Before I was just there in a bit of a stalemate. I was doing nothing, even though I had the potential. But everybody's got potential, and everybody's got a chance to do whatever they want to do. And it's up to people to get up, to take that step, whatever it is.
What are you looking to do when you finish your degree?
I want to know why people act the way though they do, because there's always a reason behind somebody’s behaviour. I would like to continue working with students and children to find out more about childhood trauma and behavioural patterns.
How do you fit in your studies with the rest of your life?
I work Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so I work one day, have a day off, work one day, have a day off, and then I've got the weekend. I always make sure that Tuesdays and Thursdays are my study days where nobody interrupts me.
When it comes to work, I try to keep work separate, but I do admit there are times on my lunch breaks where I go on Ilearn. That’s great though because the students I work with can see that I'm doing something so they’ll ask: “How's your course going?”
So, you’re there showing them there's always more to learn.
So you have mentioned you’re very active. You like to walk, you like to run, and you have run marathons. Do you think there's anything your training has in common with studying?
I love running in my spare time because of the sense of release. It allows me to meditate and to put everything in order. I do it before I study, so when I come back, I can sit down and I can focus on the task at hand.
It takes me back to all those years ago, when I was told I was nobody, when I couldn't go anywhere. Everybody needs a release and when I walk or run, I'm releasing everything. Everything's just going. And I just run, and run, and run, and nobody stops me.
When I did a marathon, as I was going across the line, with everybody around, I was like, “Wow.” I just couldn't believe it. I was told I wouldn't be able to walk, but I’ve just done a marathon.
That's why I don't think I'll ever stop. After Arden I know I’ll be thinking what else is there to do? The world is a big place, you've got to dive into it.
What would your advice be to someone that maybe hasn't had that first achievement?
Find what you're good at. Don't look at the negative, because I spent most of my life looking at that. Find what you're good at and be committed. That's why I am where I am now. That's what I do with the students where I work, because they because they have challenging behaviours and learning difficulties. They say they can’t do things, but you show them they can and you build upon that. They get a sense of achievement then, a sense of warmth.
A degree is a huge investment when it comes to time, money, effort, all these three things. It's a huge investment on your part. Why do you think it's, it's worth it?
Yeah. I think no matter the cost it’s worth it for the level of achievement. It's not just to show everybody “Oh, I've got the degree,” it's also about the sense of achievement for yourself. And to know “Hold on, I am somebody and I still matter.”