Gaia De Angelis: thriving in a supportive environment
Last year Gaia De Angelis donated blood following an earthquake in central Italy that killed nearly 300 people and injured hundreds more. In doing so, Gaia was not only responding to an urgent need, she was also finding a focus for her future career in Chemistry.
“I'm very interested in artificial blood. Researchers are working on it right now, but they haven't found a substitute that is capable of replacing all of the functions of blood yet. After the earthquake in Italy, I realised I was very interested in this topic and after I graduate, I would like to get into this type of work. But it's also something that would potentially help other people, so for me it's a win-win situation.”
A supportive environment
Gaia is from Italy and has not only had to adjust to university life, but also to living in a different country. The tremendous support she has received from the Chemistry Department and, more broadly, the University of Reading, has made her transition easier.
“From the moment we arrived in our first year, we began receiving emails from different people in the Department explaining how they could help us - from discussing placement opportunities to reviewing our CVs to even doing mock interviews. The staff have even been helpful in my application for a National Insurance Number, outlining the application process for me and offering to help should I have any questions. I didn't think I would get so much help from the staff.”
The personal attention Gaia has received from her support tutor has also been pivotal in enhancing her experience at Reading. Gaia is one of only four students assigned to her tutor making it possible to develop a closer working relationship.
“Not only does she know me when we see each other on campus, but she remembers conversations we had two months ago. For me, I'm far from home, so it's really nice to have someone here who actually cares...it's reassuring.”
Building confidence as well as skills
When Gaia arrived on campus she was overwhelmed - she had no idea what to expect or how things worked. With the encouragement of her tutor, Gaia became the Course Representative during her first year and now, in her second year, she is the student representative for the School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy. As the School Representative, she brings up course issues with the School's Board of Teaching and Learning. Through this process, Gaia's confidence has blossomed.
“It's changed me a lot. I've had to raise some issues during meetings and they take me very seriously, even though I'm a student. They treat me like one of them, which is really nice. It's given me confidence because I've learned from my experiences that I can get things done, and if I have problems, there are people here who will help me.”
Along with confidence, Gaia is getting practice in some very practical skills that employers look for.
“All of these experiences go on my CV as they are giving me transferable skills. I'm now more comfortable speaking to large groups of people and making PowerPoint presentations. And as the School Representative, I've had to chair meetings and take minutes. I'm contributing to the Department, but I also really enjoy doing it.”
Doing your best
Gaia found her A-levels harder than expected and was worried about the jump to degree level study. But when she got to Reading things turned around.
“I had so many people supporting me and believing in me that I got a first last year. So the improvement has been massive. This is something that I really like about Reading University - you get so much support that you really can do your best.”