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From hospitality to the heritage sector

30 July 2021

Student delivers presentation
Rhiannon Jenkins has today graduated with a First Class degree in Archaeology

A former hospitality worker who pursued her passion for the past years after ill-health prevented her from studying has today graduated with a First Class degree.

Rhiannon Jenkins, 27, who progressed to her Archaeology degree from Cardiff University’s Exploring the Past pathway programme, will celebrate her achievements as part of the Class of 2021 at this year’s virtual graduation ceremonies.

But a degree in this subject wasn’t always part of Rhiannon’s plan.

Ill-health meant that her original opportunity to go to university, where she was started a degree in economics and business, was cut short after the first few weeks. She made the difficult decision to return home to Llantwit Fardre.

When her health improved, she moved closer to Cardiff and worked in cafés and restaurants for four years. One day in work, she came across a leaflet advertising the Exploring the Past Pathway programme.

She said: “Since school I had been interested in history and archaeology and I was always watching YouTube videos about that sort of thing. By this point, I was bored working in hospitality and thought the course sounded interesting and different. I wanted to give it a go.”

A life-changing programme

Group of adult learners outside John Percival Building
Induction week for the 2019 Exploring the Past cohort

Exploring the Past offers adult learners, who have often been away from formal education or who are without any previous relevant qualifications, the chance to experience learning and teaching similar to a first year of undergraduate study. After successfully completing the Pathway programme, learners are eligible for an interview to progress onto a degree scheme.

“The Pathway really prepared me for my degree with advice on study skills, writing essays and finance. It also allowed me to study different types of history so I could understand what I really wanted to do at degree level. It was great to ‘dip my toe’ into different historical periods before committing to the next three years of university.”

Rhiannon Jenkins

While studying her BSc in Archaeology, Rhiannon decided to take all the opportunities available to her by participating in a Cardiff University Research Opportunities Programme at CAER Heritage Hidden Hillfort, attending Bluedot Festival with the Guerilla Archaeology Collective and contributing to a project which saw her speaking to local school children about history.

Young woman takes selfie at stonehenge
Rhiannon Jenkins at Stonehenge

“I loved those experiences and had a lot of fun while increasing my knowledge at the same time,” Rhiannon recalled.

After graduation, Rhiannon plans to study a postgraduate degree at Cardiff University alongside her new job working part-time in the heritage sector.

She said: “I really didn’t think I’d be graduating with a First when I joined up, but I set myself the goal to get high marks and I have no regrets.

“Exploring the Past has helped change my life.”

Rhiannon is one of 56 Exploring the Past learners to have progressed to a degree since it started a decade ago and one of 26 who have completed their degrees so far.

“The most amazing, inspirational people”

Hayley Bassett, 50,from Port Talbot in South Wales, was part of the programme’s very first cohort, joining in September 2010.

A mum and full-time carer for her daughter who has learning difficulties, mobility difficulties and autism, Hayley has since progressed onto a part-time degree in Ancient and Medieval History, received a scholarship for her Master’s degree in Medieval British Studies and is currently carrying out postgraduate research as part of her PhD.

Lecturer photographed with graduates
Hayley Bassett celebrating graduation with Dr Paul Webster and fellow graduate Dan Jewson

Hayley said: “I enrolled on the inaugural Exploring the Past modules in September 2010 because I wanted to learn something new, to find an interest that I could enjoy away from the stress of daily life. I had no real objective in mind, but after the first two modules, I knew that I wanted to continue studying.

“Exploring the Past gave me more than an introduction to university education, it taught me skills that I have been able to apply to all aspects of my life. The constructive feedback and pastoral support of the tutors gave me confidence in myself and faith in my abilities, something which I had been lacking before.

“I can confidently say that enrolling onto the Exploring the Past Pathway changed my life, it opened up opportunities I had never considered before. I have met the most amazing, inspirational people, both fellow students and tutors, who have changed my perception of myself and my perspective on life. My journey has not reached its end yet and I doubt it ever will, because I took the chance and tried something new.”

Hayley Bassett

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented Exploring the Past tutors and students with new challenges and over the course of 2020-21, the Pathway was delivered online for the first time.

“The teaching I received was fantastic!”

Lisa Mapley, 47, from Cwmfelinfach was among those who joined during the pandemic. She felt studying a degree was never an option for her. But Lisa had always wanted to learn more and knew she was capable of studying at university; she just didn’t know how to start, until a friend told her about Cardiff University’s Pathways to a degree initiative.

Selfie of adult learner
Lisa Mapley joined the Exploring the Past programme during the pandemic

She said: “When I was younger, I’d been expected to leave school, start working and earning money. Later, I was in my forties, disabled and feeling low, when I first heard about Exploring the Past. I have always had a passion for history and knew I would love to learn more about the subject.

“I completed the Pathway during lockdown, when all learning was delivered online. The teaching I received was fantastic! I had so much support too. I was taken through the process of applying for my degree and the funding options available to me including help from the Disabled Students’ Allowance. And now I have completed my first year studying a BA in Ancient and Medieval History at Cardiff University.

“I’ve had personal challenges over the last eighteen months, including battling Covid and Long Covid. I wouldn’t have got through these life-changing events without having the opportunity to learn. I am enjoying the course and doing really well and considering postgraduate studies so that I can become a teacher. I never ever want to stop learning now!”

Lisa Mapley

Dr Dave Wyatt, Reader in Early Medieval History and Community Engagement and the founder of  Cardiff University’s History, Archaeology and Religion Pathway, said: “I really am so proud of every one of the 56 learners who have progressed onto degree programmes since we started. Every single one of their journeys is an inspiration!

“I’ve had the pleasure of seeing all these people seize the same opportunity that I had as a mature student in the 1990s. We’ve had people who have gone on to receive scholarships for Master’s study and PhDs and some have had their work published too. For so many, it marks the start of a new future opening up before them. And, having been there myself, I know that those enrolling over the next ten years to come are also going to have the most amazing experiences.”

Dr David Wyatt Reader in Early Medieval History

Exploring the past film

Over the course of its ten years, the Exploring the Past programme won a Highly Commended award from the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning and launched its own free lecture series in collaboration with the Historical Association.

Launched in 2011, Exploring the Past was Cardiff University’s first ever Pathway to a degree programme. Reflecting the institution’s commitment to widening participation in Higher Education, the initiative has since grown exponentially, offering ten programmes covering areas including  English Language and Literature, Creative Writing, Philosophy, Social Sciences Business, Healthcare, Modern Languages, Translation, Journalism, and International Relations and Politics.

Find out more about Cardiff University’s Pathway to a degree programmes.