Achieving her dream degree, landing an assistant director’s job on BBC children’s TV shows and graduating the same year as her partner has given Katie Stubbs much to celebrate this summer.

With a passion for performing, Katie began her BA (Hons) Screen Performance degree at the University of Sunderland in 2019 with her sights set firmly on a career in front and behind the camera.

Three years on and Katie has exceeded her own expectations, collecting her degree certificate on stage at the Stadium of Light just a week after celebrating alongside her partner Declan Marshall. Declan graduated from his Automotive Engineering Degree as part of the University’s catch-up ceremonies for those students who missed out on in-person graduations during the pandemic.

“It’s been fantastic to finally be graduating. It’s been a rollercoaster from start to finish, but I’m excited about my future and being able to take on full-time opportunities in the industry now I have completed my degree,” says Katie, from Cleadon, South Tyneside.

In her first year, during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown of 2020, the 21-year-old set up a successful business alongside Declan. ‘A Magical Moment’ launched with University scholarship funding, in partnership with Santander, saw the couple dressing as characters from popular movies from Disney to Marvel, performing at everything from birthdays parties to school discos. They continued working during lockdown by performing at a social distance on the doorsteps of delighted children and their families. The business has continued to grow since.

In her second year, Katie was selected for the Lord Puttnam Scholars Scheme, creating an online documentary about life in lockdown, which Oscar-winning film producer Lord David Puttnam included in an Open University talk.

And before she had even finished her course, she landed a full-time job as the third assistant director with CBBC, responsibilities include looking after and blocking extras and crew on their popular children’s programmes.

Katie says: “From a young age I have always had a passion for, and wanted a career in, the arts. I am an actress and performer and I chose to study at Sunderland because it gave me the opportunity to study a degree that covers both on-screen acting and on-set jobs such as camera operator, director and editor. Sunderland was the only place that offered me the degree I wanted to study to get into the industry.”

She added: “During lockdown I found it a little challenging to be motivated at first, as I had gone from acting every day to doing nothing at all. However, with help from my lecturers I managed to successfully pass the first year, achieving firsts in most modules. I also kept in touch with my classmates through social media and we had big group calls together.

“I have had a great time at Sunderland. The University has provided me with many amazing opportunities.”

Katie and Declan are no strangers to the region’s theatrical circles, having performed from an early age with Performers Stage School, the Live Theatre, The Customs House, The Westovians Theatre and many more.

Declan, 24, completed his degree in 2021, but waited until Katie was also graduating, so they could celebrate the in-person ceremonies together, alongside their families.

He says: “It’s been great to share the graduation celebration the same year as Katie, it’s made it that more special.”

He added: “We met doing a show together and have since performed together many times. Both our long-term aspirations are to continue acting. We hope A Magical Moment continues to go from strength to strength. We started the business for a reason, it’s not just financial for us, it’s also because we enjoy performing so much.”

As well as her full-time job, Katie is also an assistant director and acting in an up-and-coming new musical which is coming to Sunderland. She will also continue teaching drama at the Pauline Quirke Academy of Performing Arts in Sunderland at weekends.

So what is Katie’s advice to students starting their own University journey in the autumn?

“Just give it your best try! And take all of the opportunities Sunderland offers. The Puttnam Scholarship opened many opportunities for me as it helped me on my CV with other jobs in the industry.”