I was born in 1995 into a small North Devon village called Dolton. My family have lived there for more generations than we can count, and, as you can imagine, the world felt very small and safe from inside my idyllic home. As a result of rural life, I grew up with a great understanding and love for the outdoors, and thoroughly enjoyed where I lived. I had no idea that I was living in the most economically deprived area of the county where your chances of progressing on to higher education are half that of the national average.
My compulsory education experience was probably quite typical for a rural boy. I focused very heavily on my sports teams and social life, and I enjoyed messing around with friends. I definitely lacked a direction and context to put education into. Fortunately, my grades were good enough to go on to study A-levels at Exeter College where I took Politics, Environmental Science, Geography, and As Geology as a result of my general interest in the way the world works. The pattern of my college experience was set to be much the same as secondary school, moderate levels of interest and grades which allowed me to scrape by and progress.
A change of direction
The direction of my learning life was then transformed by a two-day Geography excursion of all things! We visited Studland Heath to learn about and study ecological succession – a process that can explain why lava flows transform into forests! This trip gave me a huge sense of empowerment through gaining knowledge and being able to apply/see it in your day to day life. I came home from that trip with a huge thirst for knowledge that would change the way I look at the world. Each new piece of information opens a new avenue for exploration in ecology and that’s exactly what I love!
Following this trip, I decided to resit my As exams while taking my A2s. Unsurprisingly, my grades went up at least two levels because this time I was revising and remembering information. I had found a context for my learning, and, for the first time, I was purposefully moving in a direction of understanding what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
Life’s to short
I came out of college with good grades but a lacked confidence in my ability to study higher education. Instead I worked in whatever way I could; building, plumbing, working in bars and on local farms. This year out taught me that life is too short to not be doing what we love, and that living in fear of failure can be a huge barrier to our success as people. Following this realisation I applied to study FdSc Applied Ecology at Cornwall College Newquay and got in with an unconditional offer.
I’ve really never looked back from that decision; I moved to Newquay almost five years ago now, and I feel very lucky to be surfing almost every day and spending time with like-minded friends. From an academic perspective, I have learnt things and developed in ways I never thought I would – I completed my degree with a first-class BSc (Hons) Environmental Resource Management and went on to study an MRes in Sustainable Environmental Management at the University of Plymouth.
A better future for our children
It was during my masters year that I moved into my current academic focus and job role. I believe that if we want a better future for our children, we need to encourage their development into adaptive, critically thinking individuals capable of solving problems from a strong moral grounding. A good scientist is an incredible person to be around. I see all of these qualities in strong effect in the world of STEAM (STEM with Arts) and hope that by working with others across the South West, we can see the children of today fly past all of our expectations.
Give it all you’ve got!
My story is one of someone feeling rather disconnected from any kind of pathway in early life, a feeling I’m sure many others have experienced. But by keeping an open mind and actively searching for something to engage with, I found what I love, and am doing what I love today!
Don’t be scared of taking chances in life, and if you’re lucky enough to have found what you want to do, give it everything you’ve got!
Conor Kendrew – STEM coordinator for the Cornwall College Group.