From education to employment

From classmates to soulmates

While most of us would find working full-time whilst raising a family demanding enough; a duo who returned to education in their 40s, managed to study for part-time degrees, graduate, have a baby, get married and move to a new house, during their 3-year degree course.

Over a decade ago, Simon McWhirter came to South Eastern Regional College (SERC) where he met the love of his life, Donna, while they were studying the Liverpool John Moore’s University BA (hons) business studies degree.

The pair decided to return to study to enhance their employment prospects and the now husband and wife talk about how their part-time course at SERC was time and money well spent.

The soulmates had to juggle studying at SERC with work, looking after their children as well as holding down full-time jobs. Simon said: “I believed that getting a degree would assist me in advancing my career by adding credibility to my CV. Meeting my future wife on the course was a bonus. When I started the course, I quickly became friends with other students in the class. We were a very close-knit group.”

One of those original students is now his wife Donna. After meeting as friends during a study trip to Slovakia, the two began dating about a year later, got engaged in 2008 and got married in Bushmills in April 2011. The pair who live in Bangor now have a son Finn, who is 9 years old.

“We were friends from the beginning. We immediately hit it off and found out we had similar interests” Simon explained.

Donna explains: “We both thoroughly enjoyed the course. It’s a wonderful college for mature students: it’s small and friendly and we found that the younger students accepted us as part of the group. SERC offered the BA degree part-time which allowed me the option to work and study. It was also close to home, so I decided to enrol!”

Since graduating, and with honours degrees under their belts, the pair have changed roles. 48-year-old Simon is now the general manager of Discover Outdoors, Belfast while Donna is a project officer at Autism NI.

Simon said “thanks to the degree I developed a range of business management competencies such as business finance, marketing, tax and managing staff which I now use daily. Without the course I wouldn’t be where I am now, and I can’t thank the tutors enough. I would encourage others who wanted to enhance their career to consider a part-time course at SERC.”

Ken Webb SERC Principal and Chief Executive commented: “It’s heartening to hear from graduates that college actually provides the best footing for long term success in and out of the workplace. For these fortunate soulmates it has given them memories and relationships to last a lifetime.”

SERC are offering the Liverpool John Moore’s University BA (Hons) business studies degree in Bangor from September. For more information please call 0345 600 7555.

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