Changing people's lives through the ages
CAROLE Benson - pictured left - is living proof that higher education can inspire and re-invigorate people of all ages.
In her case, she waited until she was about to turn 50 before enrolling on a history course at Teesside University.
And, as with so many, the experience of studying a subject you really love proved to be just the tonic Carole needed.
Born in Saltburn in 1955, Carole dropped out of Cleveland Grammar School halfway through her A-levels.
“I knew I had let everyone down, including myself, by not getting the qualifications I needed to apply to university. But I was lacking in confidence and couldn’t take the pressure,” she recalls.
So instead she got a job at ICI Billingham as a lab assistant in their research and development department.
And, after a Science ONC at Longlands College, Carole did an Higher National Certificate (HNC) as a day-release student at what was then Teesside Polytechnic from 1976 to 77.
“It was a rather drab place then with a big tower building,” she recalls. “I was quite happy at work. But in 1980 micro-computing was starting to take off. ICI needed to computerise much of their research work and they decided to retrain some of us scientists as computer programmers and I moved into IT.
“It was a bit of a shock and very much a ‘man’s world’. I studied part-time once again - for the British Computer Society exam back at the poly - this time in the computer science department.
“I was then transferred to IBM when ICI out-sourced its computing activities and I became a manager working on the ICI contract.
“But by 2005 I became very ill with stress, depression and anxiety and had six months off work. The work pressures got to me. So I left …. I didn’t really know what to do.”
Carole then discovered Teesside University’s Summer School from the university’s website and started a module in Women’s History a few weeks later.
“My first lecturer Norma Sutcliffe was so helpful. I had never written an essay since my O-levels and needed that support.
“Another lecturer Caroline Kitching talked me into doing the history degree and I have never looked back.
“I was stunned by how people were treating me. I had found a family, not a history department, and the old poly had been transformed into a lovely campus.”
Carole studied social history in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries and says: “It was wonderful. I have never enjoyed anything more in my life than studying at the university.
“And it wasn’t just me that felt this way. For when it came to saying what we all thought in the National Student Survey, all of us - the young and the more mature students - gave our verdict as 100% highly satisfied with Teesside University’s history degrees. This makes it one of the best in the UK for student satisfaction.
“Margaret Hems, the principal lecturer, and her team deserve that vote of confidence from us. Their support for students is unbelievable and I don’t think I ever want to leave the history department. From my experience, Teesside really deserves its award from the Times Higher as University of the Year.”
Carole, who will be graduating this autumn, has already been accepted on to the MA in History and hopes one day to be considered for a PhD.