Karis Williamson from Inverness gained an OU Bachelor of Arts Open Honours Degree in summer 2020, as part of the OU's graduating Class of 2020.
Karis has congenital muscular dystrophy and is a member of Muscular Dystrophy UK's 'Trailblazer' network, which campaigns on key issues for young disabled people.
Karis, aged 22, began studying with the OU in Scotland aged 16, having left school in the last year of primary school.
She said: “The OU really is the gift that keeps on giving. To say that it was worth it would be a huge understatement; I absolutely loved it and I'm grateful to everyone for all their help.”
“I would definitely recommend the OU as it's been life-changing for me. It's given me self-respect and re-educated me about what I'm capable of."
I enjoyed The arts past and present the most as it opened up new worlds for me and it gave me confidence to tackle things I never imagined I would, such as studying the ancient world, Buddhism and Seamus Heaney.
The Open Degree programme is flexible and allows students to choose their own subjects to build a bespoke qualification. Karis’ courses for her Bachelor of Arts (BA) Open Honours Degree included 'Introducing the social sciences' and 'Creative writing'.
Karis said: “I decided to study with the OU as I had missed a few years of formal education. I loved poetry and creative writing and I wanted to re-discover education and get a degree.
“Due to my illness I can never take tomorrow for granted and I want to squash in as much as possible while I can!
“I already loved the arts and humanities. Studying them introduced me to things I hadn't explored, like philosophy and art history. I also decided to study social sciences as I wanted to try something different. I was especially intrigued by the content of the course and how people's differences impact upon the social world.”
Karis has enjoyed the variety of OU study methods, including study days in Inverness and Edinburgh which she found “incredibly useful and very motivating”.
Speaking about her favourite course - in which she gained a distinction - Karis said, "I enjoyed The arts past and present the most as it opened up new worlds for me and it gave me confidence to tackle things I never imagined I would, such as studying the ancient world, Buddhism and Seamus Heaney."
Karis featured in a Muscular Dystrophy UK 'Meet the Trailblazers' video and is an Ambassador for the online 'Euan’s Guide' of disability access reviews. She said: “The OU couldn't have done anything further to support me. The Student Support Team are fantastic and helped me to access the equipment I need to study and my tutors have been very supportive.
"My tutor for 'The arts past and present' course really encouraged me to explore things academically and in my own way. I also felt that the team who supported my entry to the University were really behind me and wanted me to succeed."
Karis received Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA). She said: “The DSA has been invaluable for my studies, providing the equipment and assistive technology I need to access the course materials, such as an eye-gaze computer, special software, a printer and a bookstand.”
Poems Karis composed for her OU 'Advanced Creative Writing' course featured in a National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) audio-visual exhibition at Inverness’ Eden Court Theatre. She also helped to make a micro-short film for a NTS event and said “I wouldn't have been able to do this if I hadn't studied script-writing in Advanced Creative Writing.”
Karis is taking part in a radio scriptwriting project with 'Birds of Paradise' theatre company and radio playwright Oliver Emanuel, as well as working on her first poetry collection.
One of Karis’ OU poems has been read by the BAFTA and MOBO award winning hip hop artist and writer/poet Akala. Also, Booker Prize-winning author Ben Okri has read one of Karis’ poems and would like to include it in one of his forthcoming projects.
Photo credit: Chris Floyd