“To inspire and ennoble” A HWSC student success story to prove you should not be afraid to pursue your passion


Award winning Gina Awad, loving mother, daughter & sister, OU graduate and Community Champion for Exeter Dementia Action Alliance

Gina hosts her own radio Exeter show on Phonic FM ‘Living better with Dementia’

Nominated for Inspirational Woman of the year in the Devon & Cornwall Venus Women Awards 2018. 

Inspired by her OU study, she now inspires others.

We asked Gina to share her journey with the OU.

What were your motivations for using the OU?

Two friends of mine did a couple of modules with the Open University and I felt inspired; hearing how they could adapt it around their working and family life. One of my friends sat down with me and took me through the student pages so I could obtain an overview of the process. This inspired me even more.

In addition, I had an embedded feeling of inadequacy from my school days and a significant teacher of mine who did not believe in me when I asked to take the RSA II typing exam; she only submitted people who she thought would pass. I was not one of those students. Feeling disheartened but determined to have a go, I could opt to take the typing exam only if my parents paid the fee. They did and, I passed with distinction.

Throughout my life and my work in the community I have come to believe in lifelong learning.  My OU study has allowed me to apply new knowledge, make sense of theory and really make a difference in the world.  Reflecting back, 6 years ago I would never have believed I would achieve a degree in my 40s; this will be a large part of my legacy.  I have challenged myself, both personally and professionally; including those embedded thoughts of inadequacy which began all those years ago.

What impact have you had as a result of your learning?

I have travelled down a road I never ever anticipated and in studying my dementia care module (K235) with the OU it ignited childhood memories of my experiences witnessing people living with dementia.

This learning caused me to do further research and train as a Dementia Friends Champion which, has resulted in me delivering 100 voluntary Dementia Friends sessions across the city of Exeter.

Having been told it would be insurmountable, I have now created a credible organisation working towards charitable status; Exeter Dementia Action Alliance.

Making a difference for people affected by dementia

The Exeter Dementia Action Alliance is currently working towards charitable status and is already viewed as a sought-after community organisation to be involved with.

We are a trail blazing social action movement, with clear objectives: raising awareness of dementia in the community, inspiring local businesses to take action as well as empowering people with dementia and their care partners.

I am beginning to conquer my morbid fear of public speaking through my growing confidence as a person which I believe is a result of reflection throughout my various module choices.

When I discovered the Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friends initiative I decided to train as a Volunteer Dementia Champion. My work with dementia has forced me out of my comfort zone. Susan Jeffers’ motto always sits at the back of my mind which says ‘Feel the Fear and Do it anyway’. As a person I live by that motto.

What would be your advice for others who want to make a difference with OU study?

  • Anyone can obtain a degree, the support from the Open University and your peers will be second to none.
  • Be honest with yourself and your struggles as it is not plain sailing.
  • Use the Tutor Group Forums, tutors and OU support they are there to help and they will, with an unwavering response.

Share your journey with family, friends and other students

Communicate with your circle of support; family and friends on the journey as it is hard for them too. Mine have been there for me but there were many times when I was extremely difficult to live with as a single mum with my teenage son Alex, he deserves a medal.

Find a study buddy – I did and it proved invaluable for each of my exam based modules. For me, face to face meet ups would always be my first choice but my Dementia Care module K235 did not comprise of any local students and I was unable to attend the face to face tutorial.

Be proactive

I put a call out on our Tutor Group Forum asking if anyone lived within an hour radius of Exeter with a view to meeting half way would consider studying with me. When studying my Dementia Care module I had response from a super lady called Helen from Ireland saying she’d love to study with me and bounce ideas around in the run up to the exam. We decided to skype each other once a week for 6 weeks leading up to the exam and it was brilliant. We both shared different perspectives and together learnt so much from each other. Helen did just the one off module with the OU. It was 3 years ago we studied together and she always said to share my graduation picture with her when it happened, so yesterday I did just that. A big thank you to my other study buddies too…Lauren, Christine, Elaine and Ann, all lovely ladies that inspired my journey along the way.  I also commend the support provided by my tutors; Tony Weatherby & Keith Edwards are worthy of particular mention.


You do not have to be ‘good’ all of the time: quality is better than quantity

Determination and discipline is key but also allow yourself off the hook if you feel like you’re staring at your PC with nothing to contribute or writers block. I stopped, did something else or gave myself a treat and came back to it.


“If I can do it anyone can do it, and I say that from the bottom of my heart because it really is true.”

“The sense of personal achievement is fantastic and I am a late bloomer, graduating with a BSc with Honours with a 2:1 in Health & Social care at 47.”


Truly inspirational.


  • Host of her own show on Phonic FM ‘Living better with Dementia’

View one of Gina’s radio show interviews here

  • National Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friendly awards 2016 – Winner – Dementia Friends Champion of the Year 2016
  • Lords Mayors Commendation for services to Dementia in the city – 2016
  • Pride of Exeter 2015 – Winner – City Ambassador
  • Pride of Devon 2015 – Winner – Volunteer of the Year
  • National Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friendly awards 2015 – Finalist – Outstanding Contribution
  • National Dementia Friendly awards in 2016. Read about her experience here


Dementia Friendly Awards 2017: Last year’s winner, one year on

  • Gina discusses her community dementia work with Hiblio TV, a Health & Social Care channel.





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