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Ronnie Gomersall graduates from Ulster University this summer with a degree in Accounting.

For Ronnie, school was not always easy – as an autistic person, he found the mainstream system didn’t meet his needs, the hours were too long and it was too overwhelming. When Ronnie left school, he went onto study IT for two years. While Ronnie appreciated the skills he had learnt, IT wasn’t what he wanted to pursue career-wise. This paired with the difficult time he had experienced at school, resulted in Ronnie deciding to take a break from education.

During this break, Ronnie began learning about accounting in his home life and realised it was something he enjoyed. After a six-year break from education, Ronnie took the plunge and applied to study at the Ulster University Business School on the Derry~Londonderry campus :

“I started learning it to help my parents and I thought it was interesting and satisfying when everything finally clicked into place and the accounts balanced. I decided to apply to Ulster University to learn more about it, and to give myself career prospects in the subject, because it felt like the first time in my life, I had found a subject I felt like I could work in. I was always looking for career possibilities, but nothing had ever clicked into place. The fact the Derry~Londonderry campus is a five-minute walk from my house in the middle of a walkable community helped a lot, and it’s great to be able to stay in the city near my family and friends.”

From the outset, Ronnie began immersing himself in university life. In his first semester, as part of his Accountancy course , Ronnie raised money for local charity Foyle Search and Rescue with a small variety show in the Great Hall on the Derry~Londonderry campus, raising £1,300. Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck in semester two and studies were moved online as the world went into lockdown.

Creating an active community to help people connect during lockdown was important to Ronnie, and he took on the role as LGBT+ Society Chair to help him do this. He held online meetings on a four-week rotation which included a general catch up, a movie night, a game night, and a book club, as Ronnie explains:

“It was a great way to keep people engaged with interesting topics to keep the conversation going during lockdown. We managed to get some in person meetups the following year when I was on my placement, it was nice to be able to meet other students both on and off campus.”

Ronnie was enjoying his studies and in third year had the opportunity to put what he was learning to practice with a placement, which he found challenging at times:

“The hardest part by far was my placement as it was my first real job. I hadn’t done anything on a full-time basis in over 10 years and it was a big adjustment, but I feel lucky that my placement year came just after a lot of organisations switched to work from home. I feel like I couldn’t have done nearly as well as I did if I was going into the office every day. My placement was 13 months, which is longer than most people do, and it gave me much needed experience to kickstart my career.”

Reflecting on his time at Ulster University, Ronnie summed up his experience:

“I enjoyed my time at Ulster University and felt it was far more suited to my needs. I chose to go to my local campus, I got to study subjects that I wanted to. I also found that there was a wide variety of practical experiences, the tutors were very supportive, and there was other support available from student wellbeing and careers. The course was well thought-out and really helped me develop the necessary skills and experience in a logical and interesting way.”

Ronnie’s story has inspired many across the university community, particularly his commitment to skills development and career journey over recent years, culminating in him being named as the Ulster EDGE Excel Award Student of the Year 2023, alongside the other academic excellence awards he has achieved within his course.

In September, Ronnie will return to Ulster University Business School for his Master’s degree, MSc International Accounting with Analytics, and is hoping to do part-time accounting work alongside his studies to continue to develop his skills in a practical way.