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UEL student improves the lives of all around her

Antonia Odisla’s work includes volunteering and creating student support network

Not content with completing her degree in early childhood studies, Antonia Odisla has spent her time at the University of East London improving the lives of children in the community and helping her fellow students.

She was first inspired to help out when she took a job as a teaching assistant at the Royal Docks Academy, where she encountered a number of pupils with complex and life-threatening conditions who received respite care at Richard House Children’s Hospice in Beckton.

Antonia said, “Richard House does such a tremendous job with the children and has such a strong support network for their families. Seeing the benefits first-hand while working at the Royal Docks Academy, I wanted to pay tribute to them in one way or another.”

The thought stayed with Antonia when she took up her studies with the School of Education and Communities and she set about raising funds and awareness for the Hospice, drawing attention its remarkable work while highlighting the need for more emphasis on Special Educational Need and Disability (SEND) teaching.

She said, “We managed to raise a significant amount. The weight of the fundraising bucket gave a strong indication that we were successful in helping a much-deserved cause which could allow staff, children and families an enhancement of the services provided.

“I gained valuable skills and experience fundraising and volunteering. Now I’m looking forward to hopefully becoming a university lecturer in teaching multimodality as well as creating and leading community projects. I want to help develop ways in which children can close the gap in the education system, despite their abilities, cultural or financial background, by optimising affordable technology in a universal and fully inclusive way.”

But that wasn’t all for Antonia. She saw another need that she immediately answered, in the form of a student support network called Uni Squad. Her idea was to reach beyond the boundaries of the University of East London and – in her words – “build bridges of communication and familiarity across the degree levels and year groups and create links to other students at different universities studying the same degree”.

Last December she raised funds for the project with The Great Christmas Cook-out held at University Square Stratford.

She said, “Uni Squad has been running for two years and increasingly growing in number. I am running this solo at the moment. However, I’ve been organising meet and greets on Zoom to ensure that everyone still feels a part of a community, and I launched an app on Wix to reach more students and build a solid network.”

Just recently, Antonia said, Uni Squad has now reached out to students at the University of Westminster, joining with UEL for Weekly Wednesday chats. And she’s launched a YouTube channel.

After graduating in the summer with a first-class degree in early childhood studies, Antonia is currently studying for an MA Leadership and Practice at the University. She has also been invited to join the Disability Students Allowance (DSA) panel, which helps students access grants, equipment and support through Student Finance England.

Richard Harty, dean of the School of Education and Communities, said, “Antonia exemplifies the values of passion, courage and inclusion that we instil in our students, captured in the University’s Vision 2028 strategy. We want to see our students play an active and positive role in our communities, changing lives and changing society for the better.”

Pictured: Antonia Odisla, left, and fundraising assistant Sam Reagen at a fund raising event for Richard House Hospice