An adult learner from Cornwall has been crowned the Association of Colleges Adult Student of the Year.
Stephanie Gilbert, 60, overcame many challenges to reach the finals of the prestigious national awards that were held at the ICC in Birmingham.
Having been a carer to her wife, who has dementia, she also went through gender re-assignment during her course at The Cornwall College Group.
“Stephanie is a skilled carpenter and joiner, yet at 60 wanted to change careers so joined the college prior to her transition and studied Beauty Therapy, returning after completion to do a Swedish massage course,” said course tutor, Paula Riley.
“She has been an inspiration in her open approach to her transitioning, while providing an outstanding level of service and commitment to her lessons, tutors and fellow students.”
Stephanie said support from Safe Haven during a difficult time led her to decide “it was time to pursue the dream of being a beauty therapist”.
“This is when I enrolled at Cornwall College and Paula and Sarah were great, I think it was an education for us all,” she continued.
Despite the emotional upheaval of the transitioning process, including the operation, Stephanie’s work was always exceptional and she won the massage student of the year prize at college.
Stephanie has been a champion in the community through volunteering and working as trustee, according to Paula.
“She has been an impeccable ambassador for adult education, colleges and the wider spirit of achieving through education,” she continued.
“Stephanie has never let her personal battles restrict her commitment to our college and the wider community. Her resilient attitude has had a powerful impact on pupils, staff and clients of the hair and beauty salon.”
Stephanie is a co-trustee of non-profit making organisation Safe Haven located in Cornwall that provides support for people involved within the Transgender and non-binary communities, as well as others.
“When I was asked to be a trustee I was proud to accept and even prouder when Safe Haven was shortlisted to last eight in their group for the National Diversity Awards,” Stephanie explained.
In College, Stephanie has been an inspiration to fellow students and staff members. The College is committed to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, but having someone transitioning being so relaxed and open about their experience has been a rewarding learning experience for everyone.
Her resilient attitude has had a powerful impact on pupils, staff and clients of the hair and beauty salon.
Stephanie brought many of her trans friends into the training salon, which was an important experience for all.
David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said there were “excellent applications from colleges across the country who are all rightly proud of the efforts, achievements and application of their students”.
“It makes the judging really tough, and offers inspiration to all of us,” he continued.
“These awards show how much great work colleges are doing every day to help people realise their ambitions and develop their talents.
“Stephanie has shown fantastic resolve and persistence.”