A mum is aiming for the skies after returning to the classroom to qualify as an aerospace engineer.  

The former RAF engineer, who was sent on detachment around the world, has returned to the Tees Valley to continue her education at Hartlepool College of Further Education. 

Catherine Lollis, 26, who has toured Italy, Gibraltar, Spain and the USA is now studying for an HNC Aerospace Engineering certification with the College after leaving the force to become a parent. 

The mum of one from Darlington said: “I joined the RAF straight from school and stayed in for four years. 

“I gained a huge amount of experience in flight line servicing, including things such as refuelling, marshalling and servicing on the fast jets including the Tornado. 

“I left to have children and moved home. I’ve only got my GCSEs and I realised I needed to do something to move my career forward. I’ve got the work experience but not the qualifications that go with it.” 

Catherine, who is mum to Lydia, aged 5, originally went to a college in her home town of Darlington before being referred onto Hartlepool College of Further Education due to its reputation in engineering.

The aircraft fanatic said: “I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do at the beginning, but I knew I had to go to college, so I could earn more than the minimum wage. 

“It was the perfect time to head back to education as my daughter had just turned three. 

“She’s five years old now and it’s not too challenging juggling her and my studies with her being at school.”

When Catherine left school she originally planned to go to college but didn’t know what she wanted to do. 

She said: “I didn’t really like education it back then and that’s why I joined the RAF. 

“I had a cousin who was in the forces at the time and I thought it was a great choice. 

“It wasn’t easy, but I’ve always liked hands on work and figuring out how things function.

“If I’d stayed in the RAF I would have been a mechanical engineer on the aircraft which is something I’ve always wanted to do.” 

Catherine says after having her daughter she could have re-joined the RAF, but the long shifts and relocation would have proved too difficult. 

She said: “I’ve had to get student loans to be able to fund my course, but the college was really up front with everything. 

“The loan was easy to do and the application was pretty straight forward. It doesn’t take that long and it’s fairly easy, even if you’ve never had a loan for study before.  

“Not only did I receive the student loan but, because I’m a parent, I qualified for a grant too.”

When Catherine started at Hartlepool College it had been over eight years since she’d been in a school environment, so it took a little time to take it all in. 

She said: “After the initial shock I was able to really apply myself with the help of the tutors. 

“I think because I’m older I found it really easy just to get on with it. The tutors knew I was capable of helping myself, but they always made sure I was happy to do so.” 

Catherine has advice for other adult learners looking to return to education.

She said: “Coming back as a mature student, especially if you’ve got kids, can be daunting. 

“There’s a lot to organise including funding, travel and childminding but the student services at the College are brilliant. They’ll always point you in the right direction and help in any way they can. 

“Once you get started into a routine it’s great and it really is just the first step in your new journey.” 

For more information on courses at Hartlepool College of Further Education, go to: https://www.hartlepoolfe.ac.uk/

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