Graduation Day 2017

Successful students at West Highland College UHI Graduation 2017

Over 350 students and their friends and families attended this year’s Graduation Ceremony at the Nevis Centre Fort William last Friday.

This year over 250 students successfully gained their awards and over 120 of them were able to come to Fort William to celebrate their achievements at every level in the college, right up to degree and postgraduate level and they were accompanied by family, friends and guests representing local and national organisations as well as lecturing and support staff from the College.

The Ceremony began with an academic procession led by Professor Clive Mulholland, Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of the Highlands and Islands, the Mace carried by Mace Bearer Susan MacLean from Gairloch, our own Principal and Chief Executive Lydia Rohmer, members of the board of management and other guests lead by Piper Raj Smith from Inverlochy.

Greetings from the HRH The Princess Royal, Chancellor of the University of the Highlands, and Islands were included in the programme for the event.

Lydia Rohmer, Principal and Chief Executive of West Highland College UHI welcomed all the students and their families to the ceremony and congratulated them on their achievements saying “Whatever your aspiration, I hope that what you gained here at the college is more than just a qualification, however valuable that is, but that you have also gained confidence in yourself; that you have learned to think for yourself and as a result been able to forge new paths in your life. We are all extremely proud of all your achievements and delighted that we can share this celebration with you.  Just remember, there is no such thing as failure, only new opportunities to succeed in whatever you aspire to do.”

During the ceremony, awards were presented to over 100 of the students who were able to attend from across almost all of the geographical areas that the college covers, including some graduates from other academic partner colleges within the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Students of the Year

Sue Macfarlane, Vice Principal – Academic Affairs congratulated both of our 2017 Students of the Year:

“Once again, it is our absolute pleasure to present overall Student of the Year awards to students who have been exemplary role models and displayed extremely high levels of both endeavour and achievement in their studies. Kelly and Samanta represent the very best of all the students who were nominated for awards by their lecturers and we are delighted that they have decided to continue their studies with us.  We recognise that successfully completing a course can be a major milestone for many of our students, whilst for others it is a stepping stone to the next chapter. We congratulate all of them and wish them every success for the future.”

Kelly Adams with her tutor Andy Gibb at Graduation

Kelly Adams

Kelly completed her HNC Social Services in 2016/17 and is mum to three young boys.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the whole course. My lecturer was very supportive and encouraged me to keep going when I found it hard to juggle the course work, child care and work placement. A key part of my studies was working with clients of Carr Gomm, a local service provider, who had various additional support needs from mental health issues, learning disabilities and autism. I’ve been able to use the theory I learned in class to apply to real clients and was encouraged to contribute to professional meetings to help improve the care for the clients.”

“If West Highland College UHI had not been in Fort William there is no way I could have moved away to study. Now, I have been given a great opportunity and I really want to go on to gain my degree in BA (Hons) Health Studies and to work in this hugely important area of social care.”

Samanta Milzaraja with WHC staff at Graduation

Samanta Milzaraja

When she knew she had received this award, Samanta said “At the beginning I was not sure if I would manage to stay on the course. I was anxious and lacking in any confidence. But as the year went by I made new friends, participated more and with the support of my lecturers and support staff, I completed all my units! I am currently studying NC Health and Social Care and this is a new challenge for me. I am also hoping I will be able to fly through this year to be able to go to study for my degree in the future.”

Special Industry Awards

Connor Dougan, from Broadford, Isle of Skye

Springboard Scotland Tourism Award – presented by Lorna Ferguson of Springboard Scotland.

Alexander Murray, from Caol, Fort William

Strathmore Hotels Tourism Award - presented by Alison Tracy of the Ben Nevis Hotel

Jennifer MacInnes, from Fort William

Scottish Qualifications Authority College Award – presented by Graham Campbell, SQA

HISA Award for Best Academic Support

Heather McNeill, Crofting and Countryside Skills lecturer from Broadford, Isle of Skye

Presented by Sorcha Kirker, HISA Vice President (Higher Education), Heather was selected from across the University of the Highlands and Islands to receive the award for Best Academic Support from the university's Students’ Association. This is one of 14 categories representing excellence across the university partnership

At the time, Sue Macfarlane, vice principal academic affairs at West Highland College UHI congratulated Heather: “We are absolutely delighted that Heather’s commitment to her students has been recognised in this way. While all of our lecturers and support staff do their absolute utmost to ensure that our students have the best possible experience and the best possible outcome to their studies, Heather has clearly gone the extra mile in providing encouragement and support when most needed. To be recognised by her own students is praise indeed, and we add our many congratulations to Heather on receiving this award.”

Dr Iain Morrison, dean of students at the university, said: “You cannot fool a student: they know high quality learning and teaching and great student support when they see it. The fact that there was a record number of nominations, covering every part of the university, suggests that our staff continue to provide excellent teaching and support for the people whose feedback they care about most, their students. The student testimony from these awards is genuinely moving at times and anyone considering studying with us can be assured they will be in good hands.”

Holly Scrimgeour, president of the Highlands and Islands Students’ Association, said: “The HISA Awards are an excellent opportunity for our students to celebrate the people who have supported them throughout their studies and reward them for their efforts and contributions to university life. Our lecturers and support staff are vital to the student experience during study and these awards allow us an insight into who is going above and beyond to positively benefit our student population. The nominations are a delight to read. The HISA Awards also acknowledge our class representatives and clubs and societies ensuring that we celebrate those students who give their time and support to their classmates. It is an honour to give these awards.”

The NC Crofting and Countryside skills course at West Highland College UHI is available in Broadford, Isle of Skye, and attracts students of all ages and backgrounds from across Skye, Lochalsh, Lochaber and beyond.  The students study a range of industry approved training courses such a chainsaw, pesticides and dry stone walling and combine classroom theory with practical hands on sessions in subject areas such as estate management, environmental studies, gardening, livestock and fisheries management.

Guest Speaker - Kate Philp

Kate Philp was guest speaker for 2017.  She was a serving officer on the front line in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  After suffering life changing injuries whilst on active duty she was determined to overcome them and trekked to the South Pole as part of a “Help for Heroes” expedition and is now a leadership consultant and regular public speaker. You can find out more about Kate here.

Kate is a Leadership Consultant, Coach and Keynote Speaker. Drawing on her military background as well as key lessons she has learned from dealing with a life-changing injury, Kate applies her drive and enthusiasm for personal development to help people and organisations to release their potential.

Front line service in Iraq and Afghanistan have given Kate valuable experience in leading change, providing solutions under pressure and managing challenging

An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) put an end to her tour of Afghanistan and Kate's injuries resulted in her electing to have her leg amputated below the knee, becoming the first British female to lose a limb in combat. As a focus for her rehab, Kate trekked to the South Pole as part of an expedition organised by Walking With The Wounded. This earned her the honour of being shortlisted in the Women Of The Year awards in 2014. Kate is also honoured to be an ambassador for ABF The Soldier’s Charity and a trustee of the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre (DNRC).

Mace Bearer

Susan MacLean is the Centre Manager for West Highland College UHI Gairloch, our “youngest” and perhaps one of our most rural centres, since it’s 130 miles and 3 hours away from Fort William.

She moved to Gairloch from Aberdeen when she was 6 and grew up there. She has been married to Murdo for 31 years and has 2 grown up children and a young grand-daughter whom she confesses she adores.

In her early 30s Susan gained her BA Child and Youth studies with the University of the Highlands and Islands and felt she wanted to give something back to UHI after benefitting from the opportunity of online learning.  When she saw the post for a Centre Manager advertised in 2013 for a brand new college centre in Gairloch, she knew that was the challenge for her.

After an intense programme of community engagement courses during the early part of the year, the Centre had its official opening in the spring and welcomed its first full time students that autumn.  One of these went on to be Student of the Year for her course.

Gairloch is now recognised locally as the place to go for courses of any type and this small centre enjoys being very busy with business and leisure courses in addition to 2 full time and 4 part time students studying courses which are networked and 6 more students with additional support needs who take part in our Skills and Learning Programme one day a week at the centre. It is also noted for its extremely participative Community Engagement Group made up of representatives from stakeholder groups within the community.  The group meets every three months or so to inform and contribute to the college’s future plans in the area.

Susan makes a huge personal contribution to the success of the centre as she makes it a welcoming place for students to come to. She is approachable and supportive of students and colleagues alike and is always prepared to go over and above to ensure that the centre is a positive place to study. She is kind, warm, friendly and fun and makes people feel at ease while maintaining a very professional approach to her job.

Susan in also part of the wider Learning Centre Manager Team and is a valued and valuable member of that team; helping regularly at staff conferences and events and supporting students and staff to attend and participate in the wider college experience. She has acted as a mentor and support for new members of staff joining the team and is happy to use her experience to support others.

Student Vote of Thanks

A vote of thanks on behalf of all the students was given by Lucia Petrovicova, the HISA Depute President for the college and her fellow student Baiba Samohvalova who thanked college staff for their support to students throughout their many and varied experiences of college life.

Musical Entertainment

During the ceremony, music student Robert MacInnes and his college band performed “Puirt a Beul”, and at the end of the ceremony, the audience were treated to a remarkable performance of a piece composed by HNC Music Student of the Year Mark Lawrie.  “Star You Are” expresses how Mark felt about his course, and the journey to success. Staff and fellow students who had been primed joined him in a flash mob reprise of the song at the end, a memorable moment on which to end a great celebration.

For more information or images contact or telephone 01397 874000

Photographs are available from Alba Photos