Graduation Tales: “I’ve grabbed every possible opportunity to come my way”

Heidi Stenstrom

A Cwmbran mum who will graduate from the University of South Wales (USW) with a first class honours degree says she was inspired to follow her dreams by a chance conversation.

Heidi Stenstrom, 42, has achieved one of the highest results in her year for the BA (Hons) Working with Children and Families course, based at USW’s Newport Campus.

But her decision to return to education was spurred on by her friendship with Lilian, one of the elderly ladies she helped while volunteering for the Vale of Glamorgan branch of Age Connects.

“I’ve been volunteering with the charity for about 20 years,” said Heidi, who has four children and a stepson.

“I started helping Lilian by taking her shopping once a week, and we hit it off straight away. As we got to know each other we became great friends, and one day she told me I should be doing social work as a career, as I was so good at looking after people.

“I wasn’t entirely convinced but she kept on encouraging me, and I actually submitted my application to USW while she was in the car with me – mainly to keep her happy!

Heidi started at USW in September 2017 on what was then a new course, combining elements of Education and Social Work, and has enjoyed her university experience immensely.

During her three years on the course, Heidi has also been as a refuge relief worker for Cyfannol Women’s Aid, helping families who are seeking refuge from domestic abuse.

“My voluntary work has made me realise what a fulfilling career social work is. It helps me see people who I can make a real difference to. They have been through such trauma, and people like me can help them get through it and become their best selves.”

Heidi now plans to continue her studies with a Masters degree in Social Work, having won a scholarship for the course at Cardiff University.

Sadly, Lilian passed away last year at the age of 96, but Heidi hopes to continue making her proud.

“I’m not sure I would have taken the plunge to apply to university if it wasn’t for my friendship with Lilian and her encouragement. She was my biggest champion and really took an interest in how my studies were going.

“I’m absolutely over the moon with my results, and I know now that it was the best decision for me. I’ve grabbed every possible opportunity that has come my way.

“The staff at USW are fantastic – so welcoming, and genuinely interested in what you can bring to the course.

“If you’re thinking about university, then my advice would be to just go for it. You may think you’re a bit old to be a student, but you’re not – the life experience you bring makes such a difference to your journey.”