Our class of 2021 really are something to shout about. They’ve overcome challenges, helped others, grasped opportunities and developed their skills, showing their Essex Spirit in so many ways. And they’ve done it all during a pandemic when student life has been changed beyond recognition. We couldn’t be prouder of them so we’re telling their stories.
Tue 13 Jul 21
Anxiety almost prevented Tia Topple from going to university but today, thanks to the support of her lecturers and her own commitment to helping others, she’s graduating with a BSc Sports Performance and Coaching and is well on her way to a career as a sports psychologist.
Tia originally planned to go to her local university so she could stay at home: “I struggle with anxiety and at the time I couldn't go more than 20 minutes away from home,” she said.
When her local university stopped running her chosen course she was forced to reconsider. After spending a summer learning to drive and gradually increasing how far she could comfortably travel away from home, she enrolled at Essex.
“It was the best decision I've ever made (even though it didn't feel like it at the time). I chose the hard decision, the decision way out of my comfort zone and it changed my life,” she said.
Once at Essex, she found the support she needed and credits lecturers in the School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences with helping her to succeed.
“Some days I would drive all the way to uni and have to drive straight back home, on bad days I couldn't even make it out of the car, but I kept at it, and it did get easier.
“A lecturer in my department was amazing. She didn't give up on me, she was so understanding and helped me so much - without her help and support I don't think I would've made it this far.”
"It was the best decision I've ever made (even though it didn't feel like it at the time). I chose the hard decision, the decision way out of my comfort zone and it changed my life."
In her second year, after being diagnosed with dyslexia and dyscalculia, Tia was able to develop different and creative ways to help her study. She also committed herself to volunteering and raising awareness of mental health as a Wellbeing Ambassador.
During her final year, Tia clocked up an impressive 150 hours volunteering as a Project Leader for the Wellbeing Ambassadors programme.
“I wanted to use my own experience and struggles with mental illness to help others, whilst also trying to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health,” she said.
The pandemic has changed student life beyond recognition and one of Tia’s most memorable moments at Essex was organising one of the first on-campus, in-person events after lockdown.
“I organised an event called Wellness Day, during Mental Health Awareness Week. We ran a series of activities to promote mental wellbeing. It was the first on-campus event we were allowed to run this year so it was pretty special. I put in so many hours but all the stress was worth it, to see the smiles of our volunteers meeting each other in person for the first time, and other students enjoying all of the activities,” she said.
Tia, who is staying at Essex to complete an MSc Sport and Exercise Psychology and hopes to be a sports psychologist one day, has this advice for new students: “I made a decision based on what I wanted to do, not what my anxiety would let me do and this was the best decision I ever made! Great things won't happen in comfort zones - do what challenges you, it does get easier!”