From FE to fine art

A student from the Huntingdon campus of Cambridge Regional College has started her degree in Fine Arts at Oxford Brookes University, just four years after arriving in the UK with barely a word of spoken English and no recognised academic qualifications.

Mariana Garcia, who currently lives with her parents in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, chose the College after looking at the options available, because it was able to offer her entry at Level 2, a planned progression in her preferred subject and the resources to take both GCSE and AS-levels for the necessary Maths and English qualifications.  Now she is the proud possessor of a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Art and Design.

Arriving in Britain aged 16 with her parents in 2014, Mariana, described by her mother as “someone who likes to put her hands to work”, discovered that her achievements at the Lisbon Vocational School for Arts were not recognised by the education system in the UK.  Speaking scarcely a word of English, a language she readily admits she didn’t take to naturally, there were not only barriers to her ambitions but also to the process of communicating them.

What she found in the FE environment, most particularly at the Huntingdon campus, was a readiness of staff to see how the system could be a mechanism to help someone with ambitions achieve their goals.  Access to art classes and a chance meeting with two exchange students from Switzerland, helped to provide a supportive environment for a progressive succession of art courses which allowed her creative talents to flourish.

With a natural preference for the more traditional forms of art, she was able to experiment with everything from portraiture to sculpture.  Her portfolio reveals a particular skill working with mixed media; evidenced by the creativity on display in artworks created through reducing snowballs to crystalline structures with the help of a hair dryer and then applying water colours (such as going from a failed attempt to paint on snow with ink to creating crystalline pieces which were created but transforming the failed snow painting onto snowballs and then melting them.)  A common and popular ingredient of Mariana’s work involves what she calls “getting messy”.

Interviewed recently by BBC television as part of a feature about alternative routes to success for those students without A-levels, or without the required grades, she was asked to give advice to others with talent and ambition, but who take a different path to the A-Level route. 

“I would definitely recommend the FE route.  My experience with Cambridge Regional College has been overwhelmingly positive and the opportunities provided by the FE environment have really suited me.  I’ve always had a passion for art and trying new things – now I’ve started a new challenge at Oxford Brookes studying Fine Art, it is a dream come true for me”.

Mariana’s Personal Statement for the Universities she applied to – four made her offers, of which two were unconditional – provides an insight into the richness and diversity that life at Huntingdon campus offered.

Among the activities she lists are; Student Ambassador, Student Governor, Participant in Young Enterprise and the College magazine, Financial Director of a student-run business, “Creative Innovations”, contributor to Art Club Vir2oso, volunteer at Hinchingbrooke Hospital and the NCS where she went on residential trips to help provide activities for young people aged 15 – 17, the list goes on.  Her role in College life was recognised not only by her tutors but by her peers, who elected her President of the Student Union in 2018 and by the College in the same year, when Mariana received the Principal’s Award at the annual Festival of Achievement.

As Mariana puts it, “These experiences helped to improve my people skills, communication, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and self-motivation.  My long terms goals are to go into a profession such as Art Therapy which will enable me to use these skills to help others”.

Speaking on behalf of Cambridge Regional College Sue Breeze, Head of Creative Services, said “Mariana’s success is a tribute to her enthusiasm, creativity and sheer determination.  It is also an inspiration to others and shows how FE colleges like ours, with resources and teaching skills drawn from campuses at Cambridge and Huntingdon, offer a roadmap to a fulfilling life and career, not dependant on a single set of academic results like A-levels, but through a combination of opportunity and application.  The FE environment offers a unique mix of practical, vocational and academic courses which many students find suits them best and brings the best out of them”.

Mariana Garcia’s journey to attain her goals has far to run but it’s fair to say that from her first year in Further Education to her first day at University, the FE option has proved its value.  For now, everyone at Cambridge Regional College wishes this former student every further success.

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