Erica was a student at The Access Project before she joined our team as an in-school mentor at Chelsea Academy. Now she is moving on from The Access Project, so we spoke to her about her journey from student to mentor.

“The Access Project always helped keep me on track when my school and my peers didn’t believe I would succeed.”

“I came across The Access Project when I was in Year 11. We were playing loud music outside the University Access Officer’s office and she came out to ask us to turn it down. We asked her “who are you to tell us to put our music down” and she took that as an opportunity to tell us all about her work as a University Access Officer and The Access Project.”

For Erica, this moment really highlighted the difference between the University Access Officer and her teachers. “The teacher would have told us off for speaking like that, but the University Access Officer saw this as a learning moment instead. They have a more forgiving relationship with their students, and this is the kind of relationship I try to build at my school”.

Erica was tutored in Biology as a student at The Access Project. “I was having a hard time in Year 12 and was going off track in my life. I had no belief that I would succeed at A levels and my teachers didn’t either. But my tutor helped me boost my self-belief. The Access Project helped keep me on track when my school and my peers didn’t believe I would succeed.”

“The opportunity to meet someone that does something completely different is very interesting.”

Erica’s tutor also helped her find out more about university studies and career opportunities. “My tutor had a really cool job in Public Health at Imperial College London. This was a field that I knew nothing about. I found it very interesting to know that if you do a degree you’re not just stuck in just one career.”

Erica decided to learn more about Public Health thanks to her tutor. “My tutor was a senior Public Health official when I went to university. No one who works at school would have had a Public Health degree, so the opportunity to meet someone that does something completely different is very interesting.”

“Not every tactic will work with every student.”

Erica joined The Access Project as a University Access Officer in August 2020. “I can pretty much say I owe my life to my Year 13 University Access Officer. I wanted to drop out of school but I ended up getting a degree with a first from the University of Bristol. I wanted to work here because I knew that The Access Project has the potential to change someone’s life.”

Erica believes that being adaptable is the most important skill for a University Access Officer to have. “There is a misconception in social justice work that equality means everyone is treated the same way. But the truth is that not every tactic will work with every student. It’s important to have flexibility to switch up how you work with students. My students don’t receive the same one-on-ones or workshops, but they all have the same outcomes and success.”

From her time at The Access Project, a recent moment stands out for Erica. “I was working on a personal statement with a current Year 13 student at Chelsea Academy who submitted their application and received an offer within two hours, which is mind-blowing. Having witnessed the progression of the student in the programme, and having seen their personal statement from draft one to where it was when we sent it in, that was very rewarding.”

As Erica moves on from The Access Project, we asked her what she is most looking forward to. “I’m taking a month to visit people around Europe. Travelling and seeing other cultures and places is very important to me. I am also going to apply for a masters degree, so I am looking forward to hearing from them if I’m in!”