Inspirational student Rachelle Wabissa has been chosen as one of three finalists for a national award celebrating high achievement at further education colleges.

Rachelle, who has just finished studying at Bath College, has been shortlisted in the adult student category for the Association of College’s Student of the Year Awards.

The 22-year-old studied on the college’s Access to Higher Education programme, before securing a place to study social work and applied studies at the University of Bath.

She was nominated for the award by Access to Higher Education lecturer Carolyn Guy, in recognition of her drive to succeed and her determination to overcome difficult personal circumstances.

Rachelle, who has won two scholarships to study her degree, said: “I’m so happy to be shortlisted because it’s a big deal. Even if I don’t win the award I can put it on my CV, my family was very proud of me.

“I passed the access course, I got into university, I got the scholarships and then this! It’s been an amazing time – my heart can’t take it all!”

Bath College’s Access to Higher Education programme is a year-long intensive course which provides students with a qualification, allowing them to progress and study at degree level.

Rachelle was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and came to the UK when she was 10-years-old as an asylum seeker from South Africa.

She enrolled on the Access to Higher Education programme last September, and was diagnosed with tuberculosis four months into the course.

Despite being ill, she continued with her studies and helped with a pioneering project to integrate technology into tuberculosis treatment.

At university she plans to specialise in end of life care, but her dream job would be Director of Political Affairs of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Rachelle said: “Colleges are really important because not everyone can succeed at A-levels. The access course gives you a second chance.

“At college, there are people who want the best for you and are willing to accommodate your personal struggle. The mental health support I had was really regular; I could talk to them whenever I wanted.

“It’s nice when people ask ‘how were you able to do that?’ Because I had aspirations for myself, I was able to work hard and achieve.

“Since I completed the access course, my sister has decided she wants to be a chemical engineer. It’s great to see how my siblings have been inspired, even though they saw the worst parts of my journey.

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“I thought I couldn’t do it, but I did. I had a great time. It was one of the best years ever and the friends I made, I still talk to every day.”

The winners of the Student of the Year Awards will be announced at the AoC’s annual conference dinner on November 14.

Rachelle’s tutor Carolyn Guy said: “Rachelle has the potential to be a real academic, as she has a very sharp mind. In class she participated fully, asking insightful questions and challenging traditionally held views.

“As well as her studies, she became a course representative, representing the views of her fellow students. She was exceptionally supportive of her peers and very sensitive to their needs.

“What is inspiring is that despite considerable adversity, she has demonstrated that it is possible to succeed. She is an outstanding role model for other young people.”

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