Inspirational Keele student celebrates first class degree during University’s biggest-ever graduation week
An inspirational Keele University student is one of thousands of graduates celebrating in the University’s biggest-ever graduation week in its 73-year history.
Athena Heavey completed her undergraduate degree in English Literature in 2021 at the height of the pandemic achieving first class honours, while also supporting both her family and her fellow students through the struggles created by lockdown.
Athena and her peers, who were originally due to graduate in July 2021, endured difficult times at a crucial point in their education as their courses switched to online learning part way through their studies.
Recognising the impact of the challenging circumstances on both staff and students, Athena wanted to support them in any way she could. She established an online space for her cohort to discuss work-related topics, such as deadlines, course content and ideas, and encouraged her peers to discuss topics they were unsure about within the space to minimise the pressure on staff.
Athena then worked with teaching staff to further develop the space using Microsoft Teams, which soon became a popular social hub for both staff and students to support one another through the pandemic and throughout periods of lockdown. The space was accessed every day during the pandemic, and regular video calls, quiz nights and games were arranged by Athena to keep morale high and encourage each other to keep in regular contact.
During this time, Athena was also the primary guardian for her ten-year-old sister as her parents were key workers, and she was also working part-time. The pandemic also inspired Athena to become a Student Voice Representative, gathering student opinions and presenting student views in relevant forums.
Athena said: “While some face-to-face sessions were reimplemented for the first semester of our third year - before full lockdown measures were reintroduced after Christmas - contact with both staff and other students alike remained extremely limited because of the social distancing measures in place. I knew that, more than ever, my cohort would need each other’s support to navigate the deadlines, dissertations, and increased pressures which accompany final year.
“I wanted to ensure that everyone had access to an online, communal space, within which we could remain in regular communication with our peers, without the risk of infection. It was my hope that this platform would minimise stress and feelings of isolation by offering a social - albeit virtual - environment where questions, queries, and concerns could be raised and resolved with the help of supportive and friendly fellow students.”
Dr Rachel Adcock, Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Athena’s tutor, said: “Athena is well-known to tutors in English because of her impressive academic record, but she is also well-known for her work as a Student Voice Representative and, connected to this, her efforts to build a supportive online community for her peers during the pandemic. This has contributed hugely to the final year students’ experience, and the bonds fostered as part of this community have really helped students to feel more comfortable with negotiating online classes and feel less isolated.
“Students, as well as staff, owe her a debt of thanks for this work, which made such a difference to us in these last difficult years.”
Athena is currently completing a Masters in English Literature at Keele and plans to continue her studies at the University by doing a PhD on the representation of the Holocaust in twenty-first century literature.
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