Young mother Nicola Robinson has fulfilled a lifetime ambition to become a teacher, thanks to one of the North East’s most famous sons – Sir Tom Cowie.

Nicola, 36, recently graduated from BA (Hons) Primary Education at the University of Sunderland, and was the recipient of the Sir Tom Cowie Excellence Scholarship Award, receiving £10,000 to support her in her final year of study.

Now, despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, the young mother from Sunderland has landed her first teaching post.

“I never felt like I was making a difference in any of the jobs I did, and I always knew I could easily be replaced. I wanted to do something more important,” says Nicola. “Going to university is something I’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the opportunity to do when I was younger. After working for years in jobs that I felt undervalued and underappreciated in I decided I’d had enough and was going to change it. I felt that teaching would give me the opportunity to make a difference.”

Nicola graduated just last week, and like many was faced with the daunting prospect of beginning her new career in the middle of the pandemic.

“I applied for a Year 4 teacher post, and got through to the final stages from 174 applicants, but didn’t get the position. But I was offered the position of Higher Level Teaching Assistant in the infant school at Lumley Juniors.

“The post will allow me to gain a lot of experience and build my confidence, which I feel I missed out on due to the national closure of schools.  It also means I can relax knowing I’ll have an income from September.”

The Sir Tom Cowie Excellence Scholarship Award was set up in memory of the Wearside-born entrepreneur who died in 2012, aged 89. Sir Tom was a long-term supporter of the University of Sunderland and believed passionately in its principles of affording those with talent, regardless of background, the opportunity to enter higher education. As part of his legacy, the awards were set up to support students to achieve their full potential.

“Being awarded the Sir Tom Cowie Scholarship allowed me to continue my studies without having to work part time to support myself financially,” says Nicola.  “Raising two children and trying to complete a degree is difficult enough but throwing having to work into the mix would have made things so much harder. I’ve been able to buy everything I’ve needed to help with my degree, whilst still being able to provide the essentials for my children.

“I would encourage anyone thinking of coming to university to go for it, but I’d definitely advise that they choose their degree carefully.

“If you study something you’re passionate about you’ll enjoy it more and your passion will show through when you start your career.”