Saltire Scholar Sarah says access programme key to studying in St Andrews

Thursday 1 December 2022

A University of St Andrews graduate who became a leading light for those entering Higher Education through the Further Education pathway has finally graduated in person after her first attempt to do so was thwarted by Covid.

Sarah Ramage, from Forfar, realised a dream she never thought would be possible when she graduated with MA (Hons) Geography yesterday (Wednesday 30 November). And not only did Sarah succeed in realising her academic goals but she also supported her daughters Rowan and Holly, who were also students, albeit at different universities, at the same time.

Sarah, who was also selected to intern as a Saltire Scholar in America, said: “Studying at St Andrews was something I had never considered until I was at college on a Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP) course. The University has an excellent access and outreach programme, and it was through this that I began to seriously consider applying. I was lucky to be able to visit St Andrews a few times and the more I did the more I was sure that it was the right place for me.

“The staff from the access programme were incredibly inspiring, and chatting to other students that had come in from an access route made me realise that I could flourish academically. It was also very clear that there was a thriving community of students from non-traditional routes to Higher Education. I can remember the moment I received my offer, surrounded by my college friends, and feeling like I might burst with excitement.

“I loved every bit of my time in St Andrews. As a commuting student, I was initially concerned that I might not feel as connected to the University or feel part of the town, but this wasn’t the case. The commuter room under the Advice and Support Centre was amazing. It’s quite a small place but plays a very big part in ensuring that the commuter community has a home-from-home in the centre of town.

“We fondly called it our ‘Room of Requirement’ as any time you needed something you could find it in there – we shared laughs, study tips, lunch dates, offered shoulders to cry on, and celebrated each other’s successes. This tiny space, and the larger community it supports, was one of the biggest draws for coming here.”

Explaining why she was inspired to apply to St Andrews, Sarah said: “I vividly remember sitting in a Geography subject talk at an Open Day. It was incredibly inspiring and exciting to think this could be the next four years for me. The range of modules available was diverse, connecting the physical environment and human society in the context of understanding contemporary problems such as biodiversity loss and global economic inequality. The lectures were informative and enjoyable as were the smaller seminars and tutorial groups, and our learning was supported by fieldwork opportunities where possible.

“The highlight for me was a weekend in Glen Roy where a small group of us planned our research to help us reconstruct the past glacial landscape. We were lucky to have a dry day to carry out our fieldwork, which we wrote up on our return to St Andrews. The research-based dissertation was a bit daunting, but the structure of the course meant that each semester we built up our skills and knowledge to help prepare us.

“Due to the pandemic I had to completely change my dissertation plans, but the support I received from staff was amazing. It was definitely challenging but I am proud that I managed to finish.”

And not only did Sarah manage to complete her degree despite the twin challenges of commuting and Covid, she also made the most of every opportunity to develop her skills.

Sarah has been an advocate for lifelong learning opportunities and was the Student Representative Council Member for Lifelong Flexible Learning and President of the Lifelong Learners Forum for the 2018-2019 academic year.

The Lifelong and Flexible Learners (Lifers) subcommittee of the Students’ Association supports students from non-traditional routes to have a full student experience. She explained she was able to take part in all the usual Freshers’ traditions, including the foam fight with her academic brothers and sisters.

Sarah said: “This really helped me to integrate into university life. At the end of first year, I was encouraged to apply to be the Lifers’ Officer and I worked hard with the committee to ensure that non-traditional students had a great student experience. We had a very enjoyable Family Fun Day at Craigtoun Park, providing an opportunity for those with children to get together with their university friends. There was always a big crowd of us for Gaudie followed by a night on the beach and then May Dip. We also had more than 30 students attend Glitterball one year.

“A personal highlight for me has to be taking part in Race 2 Valencia with my friend Shelley. This student-run charity hitchhiking event raises a fantastic amount of money each year. It was physically and mentally challenging but amazing to meet so many kind people on the road willing to help us. I’ll always remember singing Ghostbusters in a lorry with a French driver who spoke no English and being stuck overnight on a motorway with an airline pilot who regaled us with tales from his French Air Force fast jet days.”

And as a Saltire Scholar, Sarah was given another opportunity to broaden her horizons, taking part in the First Abroad programme, which gives students the opportunity to visit William and Mary, the world-leading research university in Virginia USA, to learn about the benefits of study abroad first-hand.

Commenting on finally being able to graduate in person, she said: “I was incredibly excited to finally graduate and walk across the stage in the Younger Hall. I remember sitting in there during a welcome event when graduating seemed so far away. I sort of feel like I have been graduating for 18 months. During what would have been our graduation week some of my friends and I met in St Andrews for a day of celebrations, including a photoshoot at the pier, lunch on the beach, and much hilarity making gown transition reels in the quad. In summer this year some of us attended Grad Ball and had an amazing time. As our ball was for the classes of 2020 and 2021 it was a chance to catch up with people we had not seen in person since the start of the pandemic. I loved every minute.

“Crossing the stage was quite emotional for me. It’s an opportunity for my family and I to share this special moment. They provided me with so much support, especially when I was finding studying during the pandemic very difficult. I will feel proud and incredibly happy to cross the stage.

“I’m incredibly grateful to have been a student at St Andrews. My experiences here helped me grow into the person I am today, and I will cherish my memories forever.”

Sarah now works for Social Security Scotland in Dundee.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

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