Media Release: Courageous graduates recognised at Orkney College UHI ceremony

Iona Corse and the University's Dr Jeff Howarth

TWO graduates were recognised for their bravery at the Orkney College UHI graduation ceremony on Friday 27 September.

Iona Corse, a HNC business graduate who battled cancer while studying, was named as the Orkney College UHI Student of the Year and Patricia McPhail, a grandmother from Canada who completed a MLitt in Viking studies through distance learning, won the University of the Highlands and Islands Postgraduate Student of the Year award.

Orkney College UHI Student of the Year

Iona Corse (19) from Kirkwall was nominated as Orkney College UHI Student of the Year by her tutor, Amanda Smith, who is also curriculum leader for business at the college. Ms Smith praised Iona for excelling in her studies despite being treated for a life threatening illness and for helping to raise awareness about the condition amongst other young people.

Ms Smith explained: “Iona’s story began when she went to the doctor to get a mole checked out before Christmas. Unfortunately the diagnosis revealed it was melanoma.

“After various medical treatments, including scans and operations, she learnt the area around the mole was clear, but the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes.

“This was a big setback which involved a major operation followed by time off to recover at a crucial time in the academic calendar.

“Iona finally got the all clear in April, just a few weeks before her exam. She made an incredible effort to catch up and to exceed the requirements of the course. This is demonstrated by her A grade. For Iona to achieve this despite all her problems is exceptional. I think most students would have deferred until the following year.”

Ms Smith added: “Iona has also been part of a campaign to highlight the importance of checking out suspicious moles. She has been brave enough to tell her story so that other young people will be more aware.”

Speaking about her award, Iona said: “I would like to say a huge thank you to Mandy Smith and her staff for being so supportive.

“The business department is an amazing team, without their support I would have never managed to achieve my HNC!

“When I was lying in the hospital bed with so much on my mind, thinking about college work was a real struggle, but I was adamant I wanted to at least try for my HNC so I wasn’t willing to give up! It was very difficult when I had so many assessments to catch up on, but I spent a few weeks of doing nothing but college work and I got there, I proved it can be done!

“I still can’t believe the moment when I got told I got an A in my exam. After everything I had been through, I would have been delighted with a scrape pass, never mind an A!”

Now she has completed her HNC, Iona has progressed onto the university’s business HND. If she does well in that, she hopes to go on to undertake a business degree.

University of the Highlands and Islands Postgraduate Student of the Year

Patricia McPhail was named as the University of the Highlands and Islands Postgraduate Student of the Year. The 67 year-old from Toronto, Canada, has just completed the university’s MLitt in Viking studies by distance learning through the Centre for Nordic Studies in Orkney and Shetland.

Patricia was nominated by her tutor Dr Ragnhild Ljosland, who is also a lecturer at the centre.

She was commended for her courage in returning to university study after many years, for her determination to succeed and for her contribution to student life.

Dr Ljosland explained: “Patricia started off by attending our Viking culture summer school in 2012. Having enjoyed this, she made the brave decision to sign up for the MLitt.

“Patricia had been away from university studies for a long time so taking up a challenging postgraduate programme was initially a bit of a shock.

“She found some of the course work difficult and was tempted to give up, believing she didn’t have the necessary skills.

“However, Patricia’s hard work and determination pulled her through, making her an example to other students of what can be achieved if you set your mind to it.

“Being in Canada, the time difference meant she regularly had to attend lectures as early as 5am, but she never missed a single class and was always well prepared.

Dr Ljosland added: “It’s Patricia’s courage and determination that make her stand out. She’s not afraid of anything, from choosing modules which required her to learn ancient languages to moving from Canada to Orkney on her own for three months to do her dissertation.

“She contributed a lot to the life and soul of the department with her permanently good mood and readiness to take on a challenge.”

Patricia said: “I have always been an advocate of lifelong learning, even when a haemorrhagic stroke ended my teaching career 16 years ago. Undertaking the MLitt degree has been an amazing experience – a lot of hard work, new challenges and rebirth into the circle of study and academia – but rewarding in so many ways.

“Everyone at the Centre for Nordic Studies has been amazingly supportive this past year and I have learned such a great deal – not only the coursework, but about myself and what is possible if you are willing and prepared to take risks and explore.

“I loved being a student again. Winning this award was a total shock, I am humbled and honoured. I will endeavour to continue thinking outside the box and challenging myself for as long as I can, hopefully setting a lasting example for my six grandchildren.

“If the future holds as much excitement as the past, who knows where I can go from here?”

The principal of Orkney College UHI, Dr Bill Ross, said: “I believe we have two very worthy and exceptional students who have been recognised at our awards ceremony this year.

“Each in their own way has made remarkable efforts to gain their qualifications and has demonstrated how important commitment is to achieve success.

“They have shown how the challenges of personal circumstance and geography can be overcome and I am delighted with the choice of Iona Corse to be the Orkney College UHI Student of the Year and Patricia McPhail to be the University of the Highlands and Islands Postgraduate Student of the Year.”

Iona and Patricia were presented with their awards and a cheque for £150 each at the Orkney College UHI graduation on Friday 27 September.

Iona will now go forward as a candidate for the overall University of the Highlands and Islands Student of the Year award.


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Contact: Susan Szymborski
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