A former student recently returned to campus to inspire students in the same way she was inspired while studying at UCEN Manchester.
Sharine McKenley-Walters is a Youth Co-Ordinator with Kinetic Youth, a registered charity that uses Youth Work methodologies to support young people who are in, or at risk of becoming involved in, the youth justice system.
Before studying at UCEN Manchester, Sharine became a victim of criminal exploitation. Her experience of the criminal justice system, marked by a lack of understanding and support for vulnerable women, ignited a fire within her to seek answers.
Sharine said: “Motivated by my own harrowing experience, I wanted to understand the root causes and effects of exploitation, so the opportunity to study Criminology and Criminal Justice was amazing. I recognised the need to advocate for other young girls and women who had suffered similarly, ensuring that their voices were heard and their rights protected. That’s how it started.
“Angela Tobin, the course leader, was so welcoming to me when I went to the open day. I’d been turned away from other institutions but she gave me a chance based on my life experience and previous academic qualifications.”
Sharine enrolled on a Foundation degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice. It was then a talk from alumni Louise Kay, who has since become a lecturer at UCEN Manchester, that convinced her to progress to the BA (Hons) course.
“Louise came in when I was a student and gave a talk that set my world on fire,” Sharine said. “That’s what made me go on to do my Level 6, as I was doing my Level 5 at the time. We more or less did the same topic on our dissertation and her passion, enthusiasm and knowledge was absolutely amazing. That set me on my journey.
My classmates and the lecturing team were absolutely amazing. I’ve got two children and one is autistic, and they were so understanding and accommodating. They tweaked things to help me and I don’t believe I would have got that elsewhere.
“I also found solace and support within the pastoral care provided by UCEN Manchester. It was here that that I discovered the transformative power of education and genuine care, which allowed me to heal and grow as an individual.”
As a result of this, when asked to return to give a talk to current UCEN Manchester students as part of the newly-introduced vocational and academic development module, Sharine jumped at the chance.
She said: “I wanted to tell them not to write off some of the young people they might work with. They might present a certain way but there are always underlying issues that they’re going through.
“Through my work, with Kinetic, I now empower young people who are at risk of or are involved within the criminal justice system, showing them that they are not defined by their past but by their strength and resilience to carve a better future.
“My journey exemplifies the transformative impact that education and support can have on individuals who have experienced exploitation. My personal experiences have fuelled my determination to advocate for others and to challenge the systemic issues within the criminal justice system.”
And Sharine’s visit clearly struck a chord with current students, just like Louise Kay’s visit did with her. Emily McDonough, who’s studying an FdA in Criminology and Criminal Justice, said:
I thoroughly enjoyed Sharine’s visit! She is an inspirational woman and just like Louise, it was not so long ago that she was in my position as a student. She made me feel like everything I want in my life is within my reach.
“Before I came to UCEN Manchester, I had mixed feelings as I know of people who have degrees and struggle to get a job afterwards. Sharine is living proof that if you put yourself out there and never give up, anything is possible. She also helped me realise that there is another path I could go down using my degree that I hadn’t even realised was an option.
“Every day she gets up and goes to work to make a real difference somebody’s life. She understands people and has a unique way of connecting with everybody around her, she makes me feel confident and ambitious. I will benefit from her visit because she made me realise that no matter what life has through at you in the past anything is possible if you put your mind to it.”