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This week the Ulster University is celebrating the Class of 2023 who are marking a monumental moment in their lives as they don their caps and gowns for the Celebration and Graduation Ceremonies in Belfast, Derry~Londonderry and Coleraine.

Over the next two weeks, students from the three campuses will celebrate their achievements in the culmination of years of hard work and dedication for many students.

Two of those dedicated students marking their graduations this summer are Erica Clearly, and her remarkable mother, Mary from Drogheda, Co Louth. Their parallel pursuit of knowledge over the years will finally be rewarded.

“I started my journey five years ago,”

says Erica, who is now 27.

“I was a mature student, and I did research to find a course that was part-time which was difficult to find anywhere else. I was and still am working full-time in the Jameson Distillery Bow Street, Dublin.

I was first a Brand Ambassador, then promoted to Craft Ambassador and now Experience Team Leader. It was my love for hospitality and tourism that motivated me to start studying in Belfast.”

Erica started studying the BSc in International Hospitality Management part-time at Ulster University, which meant she could earn the degree she wanted while working at the same time.

She says throughout her degree, she has been supported by the university staff who always worked hard to ensure she could experience the best of university life.

“The lecturers and staff always tried to accommodate me in finding the right days to go up to Belfast, and they encouraged me to progress myself."

“I tried to immerse myself into life at Ulster University and I played a role in the student ‘HEAT’ (Hospitality, Events and Tourism) society. But the best part about it was how personable it was. Lecturers would take an interest in you and help you achieve the best marks you could.

When I was in university previously studying Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science, it always felt very impersonal, but at Ulster, I felt like they really cared. It was also just a lot of fun too!”

In her role at Jameson, Erica had the opportunity to travel to South Africa for six weeks to train local Pernod-Ricard brand ambassadors on a Jameson marketing activation in Johannesburg.

“This is another example of the university being incredibly accommodating as my role in South Africa was during a college semester.

With their help and support, I was able to work remotely and tune in to my lectures while over there. I used the skills and knowledge I earned from my degree, and it motivated me to apply for this unique position.

It was so worthwhile to do, and I can’t thank the university enough for helping me advance in my career like this.”

Like daughter, like mother

But it’s not just Erica who is graduating, her mother Mary Clearly will join her in the celebrations. It was Erica’s enjoyment of the course which inspired Mary to attend Ulster University and start her own educational journey.

Mary has been working with a scientific solutions company for several years but she wanted to change the direction of her life. She started on the BSc Hons Language and Linguistics on a part-time basis, with the final year being full-time on the new Belfast campus.

“I was a young mum, so I chose not to go to college and instead went to work,”

says Mary, now 46.

“I just wanted a change and I have always been interested in English literature and history and languages.

So, when we were researching a degree for Erica, I found this fantastic course and thought it was perfect for me.

I just applied a year after, and it was one of the best decisions I could have made!”

It was an adjustment for both women as they had to commute while also working at the same time. And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit half-way through their studies which hindered their movement. But the remote learning solution at Ulster University helped them both stay on track.

Mary says,

“Going to university together made it easier in some ways. There were days when we were together on the Belfast campus which meant we could carpool.

It's actually been so great to have that soundboard. To have somebody that you can talk to about your challenges, or your successes, and they completely understand. That’s been a wonderful gift.”

Looking to the future

Erica graduates on the 6th July and Mary on the 7th with joint celebrations planned for the weekend. And they have lots of plans in mind for their future now they are fully qualified.

Erica says,

“I got a promotion last November as an Experience Team Leader in Jameson, so I'm happy to be progressing my career there.

I would like to continue my studies with a graduate programme, while getting even more experience in the industry at my job.”

While Mary says she hopes to eventually pursue a career in speech and language therapy

“hopefully next year”.

“I have to extend my gratitude to my employers for facilitating me over all these years so I could earn my degree.”

As for whether they would recommend Ulster University to others, neither hold back on their shining endorsements.

“It’s such a great place to study and they go out of their way to help you succeed,”

says Erica.

“The course was really manageable on a part-time basis as well, so nothing felt too overwhelming. But I would advise any first years coming in to always ask questions - reach out and contact people on the course so they steer you in the right direction.

The lecturers will always find a solution for you to overcome any challenges that you have and accommodate your needs.

And lastly, it’s just a really amazing experience, so enjoy yourself!”.