Donatella Callegaris (33)
Foundation Degree in Management
Donatella, who comes from Trieste in Italy, was attracted to Birkbeck because she was able to study part-time.
'I did not have this opportunity in Italy, where the universities provide mainly full-time courses, and I did not think it was fair to be supported by my family through my university studies.
'Birkbeck has given me the opportunity to get into higher education without putting my career on hold. I'm very pleased to say my career has flourished since I started my foundation degree in Management. I have improved my working position twice, and my salary has increased substantially.
Her first career move was from estate agency administrator to a post as a client manager at a trust management company. 'The position was very demanding, but the confidence and knowledge I was gaining from my foundation degree helped a lot. My boss was impressed because I was willing to learn and, thanks to my studies, I was given more responsibility. I then moved to my new job as a portfolio executive at a venture leasing company.'
Admitting that her first essay deadline at Birkbeck was scary, Donatella continues: 'It was a bit of a panic as, despite having passed all the relevant Cambridge exams in English, it was still my first essay in a language that was not my mother tongue. I guess it was pretty much a "learning by doing" situation.'
But the lecturers were really supportive, and, with the help of her tutor, even financial accounting – her least favourite subject – became a 'positive experience despite the initial dislike,' she says. And how did she cope with the workload? 'One year was extremely difficult because I was travelling a lot for work and it did reflect on my performance. Last year was much better though! It has to be said that having a demanding job and going to university three times a week requires a lot of motivation and commitment.'
So would Donatella recommend Birkbeck to others? 'Yes, absolutely.' In fact, her sister, encouraged by Donatella, is in her first year of the BSc Economic and Social Policy programme at Birkbeck.
Donatella herself is now doing well as a BA Management student. 'It's very exciting because most of the modules I'm studying are related to my work. It will take an incredible amount of effort but I feel very strongly that it is the right thing to do. Plus I have the support and understanding of my partner, family and friends too, which is very important – otherwise it can be a very lonely experience, especially for foreign students living in London and far away from their family.'
Without Birkbeck, Donatella says she'd 'still be trying to understand what I want to do and where I want to be. Knowledge is always responsible for changing people. I've learned a lot, and I feel more confident. I know where I'm going now and the career I want to pursue.'