Inspirational student Rachelle Wabissa was chosen as Adult Student of the Year at the Association of College’s national conference.
Rachelle was nominated for the award by Access to Higher Education lecturer Carolyn Guy and was one of three students to be shortlisted.
She was invited to a prestigious awards ceremony, which was part of a two-day conference attended by senior leaders in further education.
Rachelle with BBC Breakfast television presenter Steph McGovern
The 22-year-old has just finished studying the Access to Higher Education course at Bath College, which enabled her to secure a place to study social work and applied studies at the University of Bath.
She was nominated for the award in recognition of her drive to succeed and her determination to overcome difficult personal circumstances.
Rachelle said: “I thought I was going to cry, but I managed to hold it in. A couple of months ago I was nominated for the award and suddenly I’m at the awards ceremony with these amazing people, who have been nominated alongside me, and I won.
“I wasn’t expecting to win at all, it feels like a dream! The continued support from my college was a great help and they really pushed me to be the best I could be.”
Bath College’s Access to Higher Education programme is a year-long intensive course which provides students with a qualification, allowing them to progress and study at degree level.
Rachelle enrolled on the programme in September 2016, which required her to study English and maths in addition to units relevant to her degree.
Just four months into the course, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, but despite being ill, she continued with her studies and helped with a pioneering project to integrate technology into tuberculosis treatment.
Alongside this, she became a course representative, listening to the views of her fellow students and supporting their needs throughout the year.
Rachelle with Bath College Principal Laurel Penrose
Rachelle said: “It will open doors for me when employers see that I have put my heart and my soul into my education.
“Now it’s finished I don’t think about how much work I put in. I’m at university with two scholarships, it’s one of the best starts I could have had.
“These awards not only recognise the hard work people have put in, they recognise the different paths people take to reach their goals. You don’t have to do A-levels; you can do an access course or an apprenticeship at college.
“Two years ago if someone told me ‘this is what you’re going to be doing’ I would never have believed them.
“I want to tell people that the access course is not just a course, it’s so much more than this and you can accomplish more than you think.”
Bath College Principal Laurel Penrose, who was at the awards ceremony, said: “We’re very proud of Rachelle and the fact that she’s won national recognition for her dedication to the Access to Higher Education course.
“This achievement is inspirational and also demonstrates the strength of our teaching staff, who go above and beyond to make sure students receive excellent support and guidance.”
David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “The Student of the Year awards showcase the very best of college students across the country.
“They celebrate exceptional students who stand out from the crowd. Rachelle’s achievements despite her commitments outside of studying are to be commended.
“Her compassion and hard work show, despite the illness she has been struggling with, must be lauded. She’s more than deserving of this award.”