Elpida Petrovits believes she is proof that academic success is possible, even in the most challenging of circumstances.
Graduating with a first class degree from Cardiff University in Human and Social Sciences, Ellie, as she is known to friends, will be going on to complete a fully funded Master’s and PhD studentship at the University of Glasgow.
Both will focus on public health interventions with the aim to promote health and wellbeing in older adults and children and young people.
But Ellie has overcome a number of hurdles along the way. The 23-year-old, who is half Welsh, grew up in Greece until she was 14. Her caring responsibilities for a close family member meant the next few years were difficult, as she divided her time between two countries.
"Going to school in Greece meant I didn’t have A Levels but I knew I wanted to go to university in Wales," she said. "So I was gaining credits with the Open University while juggling part-time jobs - I worked as a barista and as a nursery assistant."
Ellie then chose the Pathway to Social Sciences at Cardiff University before embarking on her degree.
"The Pathway was wonderful as it helped prepare me for undergraduate life and I was delighted to get the chance to study a psychology-based degree as this is an area that has always been of interest to me," she said.
Ellie’s dedication to work didn’t stop at her studies or paid work. She has worked in various guises as a volunteer - as Lead Student Ambassador for young carers on the Widening Participation programme and for young carers and as a student mentor mentoring fellow students as they start out and progress through their degrees. Other extracurricular engagements include her role as an academic representative and Senior Student Champion.
Beyond the academic aspects, Ellie, has undertaken a total seven other volunteering roles, all of which include projects aiming to improve awareness in mental health, promote wellbeing and reduce stigma. For example, being a Wellbeing Café Volunteer for Cardiff Women’s Aid and a support worker at St David’s Hospital for Mental Health Matters Wales (MHM Wales).
She said: "Even though at times it was tricky to balance working, studying and volunteering. I’m very glad I took on the challenge!’’
She particularly enjoyed her volunteering roles with Skills & Volunteering Cymru (SVC). Being a Lead Volunteer for Young Carers Club, she provided a variety of interactive online sessions for young carers. She also co-created and delivered a series of Health and Wellbeing workshops for adults with disabilities and/or mental health conditions.
Knowing that she was contributing to the Covid-19 vaccination roll out programme as a volunteer at a Mass Vaccination Centre was perhaps the most fulfilling aspect of the year. ’’Not only did I receive a special recognition certificate for outstanding contribution to volunteering, I am now a proud member of the board of trustees for SVC.’’
Ellie was also able to put her theoretical knowledge into practice through her CUROP research placement at the University’s Centre for Development, Evaluation, Complexity and Implementation in Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer).
"I’ve always been driven and I’ve tried to make the most of every opportunity that’s come up," she said. "I strongly believe research is the key to improving the health and wellbeing of people and this is an area I am really passionate about. My next round of studies will help me focus on this further."
Despite graduation ceremonies being online this year, Ellie found time to celebrate with friends, donning a cap and gown for pictures near the University’s Main Building.
She added: "To anyone wanting to make that move to university, I would say, go for it. There are no barriers too great and there is so much support available. I’m looking forward to the future."
To find out more about Pathway opportunities, click here.