24-year-old Esme Kahlon, from Oxfordshire, will be joining over 2,000 other University of Northampton students this week, as they cross the stage of the Royal & Derngate theatre, to celebrate the end of their studies at this year’s Summer Graduations ceremonies.
Donning her cap and gown is the icing on the cake of a successful time at University for Esme, speaking ahead of the ceremony, she said: “I’m so excited to be graduating this week, and with a First-Class Honours. I initially wasn’t sure that going to University was for me, so worked for several years while I thought more about what I wanted to do. During that time, I worked as a teaching assistant (TA) in a local special school.”
It was here that Esme discovered a passion for working with individuals with special educational needs and disabilities and set about working out what she needed to kick start her career. At a University of Northampton Open Day, Esme discovered what the Special Educational Needs and Inclusion programme had to offer, and signed up to study in Northampton.
“The course is highly specialist and that really suited what I was looking for, as I had a clear idea of how I wanted to progress professionally. At the open day I remember being inspired by the lecturers and being excited while hearing more about the course. It had a great mix of academic study and placements to develop both my knowledge and skills.”
It wasn’t all work for Esme while at University; with a spring in her step, she took her gymnastic background in a different direction, joining and competing with the Students’ Union’s Cheerleading Society. At Northampton the Students’ Union offers free sports and societies, just one of a handful of UK universities to do this.
“Sport helped me to unwind, keep active and meet new people. The fact that I didn’t need to worry about how much getting to and from competitions was going to cost, or about paying lots of fees was amazing. It enabled me to try out different sports and societies when I first arrived at university, without worrying what it would do to my student loan.”
At Northampton, courses are designed to give students access to an array of opportunities. On the Special Educational Needs and Inclusion course, this includes study trips around the world, and the opportunity to teach at a summer school in Hong Kong. As well as this, students have the chance to learn British Sign Language to break down communication barriers with the Deaf Community.
“There were so many extracurricular opportunities to get involved in, and I was keen to grab them all with both hands. While I was a TA, I worked with a pupil with hearing impairment, so I had a basic understanding of sign language. When I found out that I could further my skills and gain a qualification in British Sign Language (BSL) alongside my studies I was quick to sign up. BSL is a wonderfully expressive language – it took a lot of time and work to learn, but I’m thrilled to have gained the skills that could enable me to help others. It’s also an excellent thing for my CV. It has already helped me when I’ve been on placements and is great to have now that I’m job hunting.
“In my first year I went on a study trip to Romania and in my second year I was lucky enough to go to Belgium too. It was so valuable to be able to go into education settings in other countries to get a global perspective. Education around the world is vastly different in many ways, but I’ve learned that engaging young people and supporting them to bring out the best in themselves is universal, and strongly based in your people skills – no matter the language or cultural barriers.
“Nothing tested that more than my six-week summer school placement in Hong Kong! I was thrown in at the deep end, teaching a class, in another country, using my verbal and non-verbal skills to communicate with a class of children. This study trip taught me so much about being thoughtful in my practice– I always ask myself, ‘how am I doing this?’ and ‘why am I doing it that way?’ when planning classroom activities.
“My lecturers have been so nurturing and inspired me to work hard. They’re such specialists in their areas and really get you to open your mind to different aspects of the field and ways of thinking. They expertly balance kindness and support with pushing you to achieve the potential that they see in you. If you push yourself, you can do great things. My experience at Northampton has definitely taught me that.”
Looking to the future, Esme is excited by the prospect of Postgraduate study having rediscovered her love for education at Northampton. The University wishes Esme, and the thousands of other students graduating this week all the very best for their futures.