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From cleaner to environment manager, Faye says her degree is “so worth it”

Faye Tester went from being a cleaner at a gas distribution firm, SGN, and an extra on TV, to supporting the management of the company’s environmental compliance and procedures. She completely changed her life and says that, if it wasn’t for her Environmental Management and Technology degree with The Open University, she would never have been able to achieve what she has achieved.

Faye said: “Studying every lunch break and evening for seven years was challenging, but knowing I have no student debt and have a successful career to go with my well-earned degree has made it so worth it.”

Working her way up

Faye Tester, Industrial

Photographer: Alan Peebles

“I started with SGN aged 19 as a cleaner, basically – a facilities assistant, so everything from toilet cleaning to putting up noticeboards. I was quite proactive, even being a facilities assistant, so I got put on reception at SGN Head Office in Surrey.

“I felt bored and under-challenged and, because I was living at home with my parents, I decided it would be my opportunity to look at further study. I’d studied Environmental Science at college and I’d completed an A-Level in that, so decided I should take that further.

“A colleague had recommended the OU; they said, although it’s really hard work, if you’re prepared to stick with it, it’s really good. I started my first module, ‘Environment: journeys’, and that was it.”

Flexibility was key

Faye wanted to complete the whole Environmental Sciences degree, but halfway through realised that she was more interested in environmental management. She switched her course and tailored her modules so that she completed an Environmental Management and Technology degree instead.

Moving from Surrey to Glasgow in 2011 didn’t impact her studies, and she combined her degree course with working full-time, as well as background acting roles in TV and in musical theatre shows.

Studies led to a huge step up the career ladder

Faye was able to apply her expanding knowledge at work, and the company became more interested in her studies, even giving her time off for exam study.

I studied at lunch breaks, and then obviously when I got home. Sometimes the work connection was actually helpful – I could look at a work document related to my course, or speak to colleagues. I was able to apply my learning to my day job as I progressed. It has become more and more useful I think as I’ve gone on.

Faye’s current role as Environment Manager became available when the previous manager had retired. Knowing about her studies, SGN gave her a chance to prove herself in the position – and she has certainly done so:

“As Environment Manager covering Scotland and Northern Ireland, my role is really varied, from award submissions, to environmental compliance and waste management issues. I often visit colleagues on site, completing environmental audits and inspections with them.

“It’s about trying to influence behaviours as well – communicating with the whole organisation and then speaking to staff on site to improve behaviour.

“I enjoy being able to meet staff and contributing to a change in the way they do things so that the organisation continues to be environmentally friendly. We have 4,500 employees, so it’s basically engaging with as many of them as you can.”

Graduating with no debt

Living in Scotland, Faye was able to apply for funding from the Part-Time Fee Grant, which meant she graduated with no debt:

I would hate to be in debt. All of my friends have got crazy amounts of debt. Just to be able to say that I’ve obviously progressed in my career and got my degree is just amazing. I also bought my own flat when I moved to Glasgow, which was fantastic.

Hard work, but worth sticking with it

The Open University is a different way of studying, but Faye says there are many benefits to this:

“There are the cheaper fees, and then there is the opportunity to meet a bigger variety of students (ages, lifestyles), with lots of experience than if you went to a traditional campus university. Some of the students are older and everyone has lots to offer.

“My OU studies were really enjoyable. It is hard work, but worth sticking with it because, when you graduate – especially if you gain a First Class – it is the best feeling. You just feel really proud.”

About Author

Christine works in the Media Relations team within the Communications Unit at The Open University. She is an experienced BBC journalist, sub-editor and news editor and has a background in regional newspapers. After moving to PR she worked as a press officer for the Zoological Society of London. She has a BSc in Social Sciences with Politics from The Open University and focuses on stories from the Faculty of Social Science and widening access in HE. Chris swims regularly and has a pet Tortoise called Lightning.

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