You can reach the top by aiming higher, says award-winner Alycia

June 2014

An inspirational UCB student who left school with barely any qualifications is celebrating after being named University Mentor of the Year 2014.

Alycia Heer was praised for her professionalism, enthusiasm and ability to inspire teenagers facing challenging personal circumstances.

Alycia was awarded the prestigious title by Aimhigher, which works with more than 50 West Midlands schools and colleges to encourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds to fulfil their potential and move into higher education.

Aimhighers’ top learners and mentors were honoured at its annual awards ceremony at Aston University. Aston, UCB, the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City University work together as the organisation’s partner institutions to highlight the value of higher education and have committed £1 million to the programme between 2011 and 2015.

Alycia, who is studying an MA in Marketing Management for Events, Hospitality and Tourism, has previously been a runner-up for the main award and was thrilled to be named the winner for 2014.

She said her experience of school and higher education meant she was keen to encourage teenagers from all backgrounds to consider going to university. Alycia joined UCB on a tourism course and was fast-tracked on to a degree in Food Marketing Management before progressing on to Masters.

She said she would not have dreamed of going to university – and staying on as a postgraduate – when she was at school. She managed to get two GCSEs, in English and RE, but said studying at university, and meeting people from all walks of life, had transformed her outlook.

Alycia, who has worked as a mentor for two years, said: “I would never have thought it was possible to go to university. I thought it was for posh, upper-class people and not people like me. When I joined UCB, I realised my preconceptions were wrong and it did my confidence wonders.

“University can really turn your life around. It opens doors. You find out so much about yourself.

“For me, UCB is the university of opportunity. It has given me the opportunity to better myself.”

Last year Alycia worked as a paid mentor in three different schools – Dudley Sixth, Archbishop Ilsley in Birmingham and St Peter’s School, Solihull – supporting a total of 15 students.

Nyssa Koring, Aimhigher and UCB Mentoring Officer, said: “Alycia has been a fantastic and energetic mentor. She was highly organised and adaptable, amending or changing sessions to suit the needs of those she was working with. She was highly punctual, professional and enthusiastic, joining in, offering support and using her initiative to encourage and support her learners and inspire them when it came to their own mentoring.”

Aimhigher Factfile

  • Aimhigher students achieve between 1.5 and 3 grades above their predicted GCSE results.
  • They are far more likely to progress to Level 3 study at 16 – and are far less likely to become a NEET.
  • They are more likely to apply for university than other learners from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • They are geographically and socially mobile – 45% of Aimhigher’s UCAS applicants accepted places at universities outside the West Midlands in 2012 and 16% accepted offers at Russell Group universities compared with a national average of 8%.
  • Aimhigher mentors are undergraduates.
  • They provide face-to-face and on-line support and encouragement to learners between Year 7 and Year 13.
  • Mentors receive training and are CRB/DBS checked.
  • Learners are selected by the school or college, and are from disadvantaged backgrounds that are underrepresented in higher education.
  • For more information, go to www.aimhigherwm.ac.uk
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