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Class of 2020: graduation success during the pandemic

MDX students talk about graduating despite the challenges of lockdown and the pandemic

It’s a year like no other and coronavirus has touched every aspect of our lives. Graduation has been no different - some of our students talk about their journey to success despite the challenges.

Patrea Jayne Powell-Farquharson, a graduate in BA Product Design was shocked when her project PLAY-THINGS was chosen as one of the 10 most interesting projects in the Dezeen magazine Virtual Design Festival.

“I was surprised that out of all the quality projects on Middlesex's product design programme that mine was highlighted along with nine others. It's felt really good to know that all the hours spent reading up on various therapies and dyspraxia and collating all of the insightful information was recognised.”

PLAY-THINGS helps create fun experiences, allowing children aged 5-7 who are diagnosed with developmental coordination disorder (DCD) to control a continuous runner video game. The premise is based on the notion that “practice makes better”. Therefore, increased exercising of the targeted muscles a child uses for handwriting, will both strengthen the muscles and in turn enhance the child’s handwriting.

Patrea describes lockdown as series of highs and lows:

“At first, I enjoyed attending the 9am starts from the comfort of my home but I began to miss my peers and the ability to bounce off each other when i felt stuck. It was also really hard with no studio space. My biggest problem was that my laptop was slowing down and wasn't up to the task of running the programmes I needed. I was scared that that would lower the quality of my work and my final grade. But the tutors were very helpful and supportive in proving alternatives and advice. We had group calls twice a week and shared work and it meant a lot to know that you are progressing or if not what you could do.”

BSc Biology (Molecular Biology) graduate Oriana Montes has won a Royal Society of Biology Top Student Award for getting the highest percentage in a bioscience degree in her cohort at MDX. In the autumn she begins a Master’s at Queen’s University Belfast. She dreams one day of becoming a researcher into mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and Dengue fever in Africa.

“I still can’t believe it!” she says about the message congratulating her on the prize that her tutor sent her. She thanks everyone who taught her during her time at MDX, including her technical tutor Anneke Prins, for their wisdom and support. Her favourite project during her course was her final dissertation, on genetic variation in beadlet anemones, Actinia equina. Oriana says she liked it “because it was an individual and challenging project, which I took almost one year to complete,” adding that as well as it boosting her research techniques, the skills and knowledge she gained equipped her well for work situations.

She found the beginning of lockdown “incredibly stressful” as she wasn’t able to get into the laboratory to finish her dissertation - she’s grateful for the support MDX gave students by extending assignment deadlines and allowing 24 hours to complete exams. The great sadness of lockdown, she says, was not being able to say a proper goodbye to friends, or celebrate graduation together, having made so many plans about how they would mark the end of their exams.

Oriana came to MDX as a mature student, following recommendations from friends who were MDX alumni, a few years after completing high school in Brazil where she grew up. She worked as a Student Learning Assistant and sometimes as a Student Ambassador alongside her studies. Her daughter Alicia, now 7, is her main inspiration for going back to university and into the world of research – “she’s beautiful, smart and so proud of me” says Oriana. “I thought I’ll make her more proud”.

Last year Oriana undertook an eight week work placement at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where her main role consisted of applying bioinformatics to control characteristics for genetic material exchange between three subpopulations of Plasmodium knowlesi, a parasite that causes malaria. Also during her time at MDX, she competed in a pilot lab technician competition at WorldSkills UK in Birmingham, and independently enrolled on a summer course in genetics at a university in Istanbul.

Cheniece Warner has graduated with a First Class degree in Dance Practices (Choreography). At MDX her work has included collaborative projects with Interior Design, Fine Art and Music students and others. Her favourite third year project was a collaboration with Wimbledon College of Arts BA Theatre Design students. “We created the piece 'It Defines' that explores the concept of an individual’s identity and looks into the pros and cons of asserting that identity in society, through text, spoken word, visual arts and improvisation scores” Cheniece says. Another of her interests is making photographic explorations of the human body in stillness and motion.

Choreography, she says, is “as an endless pool of possibilities. To grow with others, and construct work that is a culmination of both personal and creative endeavours is wonderful”.

During the stay at home stage of the pandemic, “Zoom calls meant module workshops could take place in the run up to our final submissions, while allowing dance classes to resume with tutors, which provided a break from the intensity of studying in lockdown” she says. “MDX really aimed to accommodate students during this time and even though it was not the typical end to a degree, I am really happy with how it went”.

Earlier this year, Cheniece was one of 28 MDX students who took part in outdoor mass participation dance event RISE which marked the beginning of Brent’s year as London Borough of Culture. Alongside professional dancers, MDX students helped lead groups of volunteers from schools, dance clubs and community groups in the performance. “I’ve loved every moment of it,” Cheniece said at one of the final rehearsals. “Everyone is so open and ready to learn”.

Cheniece sends "a big thank you to the Dance Department for their constant encouragement and understanding, and a special thanks to lecturer April Brown for all the amazing support she gave through the ups and downs of my three years at MDX".

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