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QUB Graduation For Inspirational Billie Jo
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QUB Graduation For Inspirational Billie-Jo

Queens University student who experienced homelessness and financial difficulties while studying for her degree will today graduate with a Bsc (Hons) Geography from the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology (GAP).

Billie-Jo McDowell, 23, a care leaver, grew up in the care system in Northern Ireland.

Billie-Jo struggled with financial issues and homelessness while studying at Queen’s University and faced the prospect of dropping out.

She said: “At the start of second year, I was living in a homeless shelter, and Deirdre Lynskey was installed as the Care Leaver contact in Queen’s Widening Participation Unit. She helped me get into Queen’s Accommodation and, in fact, she has helped me through a lot. She gave me a lot of opportunities which have helped me decide on my future career as a social worker.

“The help and support offered across the University, from academic staff to well-being staff, has helped me through my three years. Education helped me through the rough times.

Without this help, I wouldn’t be graduating. I always had someone I could talk to. My advisor of studies helping me with extensions when needed. Without him, I probably would not be at the level of academic standing that I’m at.”

In her final year, Billie-Jo worked as a Residential Assistant for QUB Accommodation. It is a position she plans to keep while beginning a new degree in Social Work at Queen’s in September

Queen’s has been awarded the Buttle UK Quality Mark for commitment to supporting care experienced young people, and in the academic year 2015-16, Queen’s introduced a new Care Leaver Bursary.

Billie-Jo said: “At Queen’s I’ve worked with Deirdre in regards to getting a bursary set up for Care-Leavers. During my second year, I was involved in setting up Get a C.L.U.E. (Care Leavers University Experience), a project to get care leavers at Queen’s more involved and give them opportunities to enhance their skills and give them a place to meet with and get support with people from similar backgrounds.

“The ultimate aim for me is that Young People who have been through similar situations to myself can see that our backgrounds don’t define us and that we can reach our goals. My goal was to graduate from university and I’ve done that.”

Billie-Jo’s aim upon graduating with her Social Work degree is to become a social worker within the 16+ team, working with young adults from ages 16-24 who are transitioning to independence.

Billie-Jo will celebrate graduating with boyfriend Steven McKelvey; social worker Judith MaNeely; Deirdre Lynskey, care leaver contact at Queen’s; Assistant Director of the Northern Trust, Judith Brunt; and social worker, David Gillian.

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