From education to employment

Footballing geochemist scores spot at UCL

An ambitious footballing sensation from Hirwain is looking forward to taking on her next challenge and kickstarting her dream career after securing a place at a top UK university, where she hopes to continue her sporting successes alongside her studies.

18-year-old Coleg y Cymoedd learner Lilia Simonov will be heading to London this September to study Earth Sciences at University College London (UCL) after getting her A levels in her geography, chemistry and maths.

Having played football since the age of ten and being passionate about the game, for Lilia, a stimulating course and a prestigious Russell Group status weren’t the only criteria on her list when it came to picking a university – her chosen institution had to have a women’s football team too.

The hardworking learner, who also set up her own debating club and was named Coleg y Cymoedd’s A2 learner of the year, is unphased by the prospect of balancing training and games with her university studies, having already had to juggle both during her time at college.

Lilia was part of Coleg y Cymoedd’s Female Football Academy – the first college academy of its kind which offers young women a full-time football training programme alongside a full-time education provision. The college is the only Welsh FE institution to have a TASS (Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme) dual career accreditation, awarded to institutions that demonstrate a commitment to supporting young sportspeople to follow a dual career route – allowing them to reach their potential in education while achieving success in their sport. While learners on the Academy usually complete a BTEC in sport alongside their practical sessions, Lilia was determined to instead study three A levels, despite knowing this would increase her workload significantly.

Lilia said: “I’ve played football since I was a child and have always loved it. I really didn’t want to give it up when it came to college but at the same time, I knew I wanted to get my A levels. It wasn’t an option for me to pick one over the other so the football at Coleg y Cymoedd was the perfect solution for me. It’s also the only college in Wales to have a TASS accreditation which was a big selling point for me as it meant there were already policies in place to support me to balance both aspects.

“When I was first invited by the college to join their girls’ academy, I knew didn’t want to take the designated route of studying a sports BTEC and they were really accommodating in letting me tailor the programme to suit my needs.  Luckily I was able to attend the Ystrad campus for football and Nantgarw for my A Levels.

“It was hard work balancing football with all my A levels and it was definitely more work but I was determined to succeed with both. I made sure I found the time to catch up on lessons I missed due to games and often found myself revising on the bus to away games. My tutors were also incredibly helpful, recording sessions for me to look back on in my own time. They were really understanding about my football commitments and did their best to support me. Sometimes I considered missing a fixture when I had deadlines coming up, but I always ended up going and just working extra as I couldn’t stay away!”

Lilia’s journey into the world of football hasn’t been a smooth one. After playing for boys’ teams for a few years due to there being no local female clubs, Lilia and a few others kickstarted the Aberdare girls’ team which allowed them to join an all-girls league. Since then, Lilia has joined a few different teams, and currently plays for Barry Town as well as Coleg y Cymoedd’s girls academy.

She is now looking forward to starting her degree in earth sciences, which she was inspired to apply for as she felt it perfectly combined her two favourite subjects, geography and chemistry. Her hope is that the course will open up a career in research, exploring geographical processes, including tectonic events like earthquakes and tsunamis, to be able to help better understand them.

Lillia added: “I’ve always wanted to go into a career that plays a role in helping people. By studying these processes, we can identify when catastrophic events might occur and work to prevent them. Research as a geochemist would also allow me to travel the world – something I’m really interested in doing – as the problems we are tackling have no borders.”

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