After ten years of working in the hospitality industry, Cheryl McCarthy decided to take a chance and study a Bachelor of Civil Engineering, proving it’s never too late to pursue your dreams.

Cheryl had known she wanted to study engineering since she was fifteen years old, but like many people, put it off due to life circumstances and uncertainty about future study.

“I didn’t fully understand the university process. I knew it cost money, but wasn’t sure how HECS worked. My UAI wasn’t fantastic either, so I didn’t really see [university] as much of a possibility back then,” Cheryl explained.

While she enjoyed her job in hospitality, Cheryl felt like she was being held back by the limited opportunities for career progression. The long hours and night shifts also weren’t very family friendly. It was becoming increasingly difficult to juggle work with having a young child. When Cheryl’s son turned one, she gave herself a ‘now or never’ ultimatum: undertake a career change.

Cheryl wasn’t accepted directly into the Engineering degree she wanted, but didn’t let this setback deter her from studying. After exploring numerous entry pathways, she opted to enrol in a Bachelor of Business and choose engineering subjects for her electives. As a result of her academic merit, in her second year Cheryl was able to enrol in the Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Civil) degree.

“I really enjoy [engineering] which I think makes the whole juggling a son…a family and everything amongst it…much easier, as frustrating as it can be at times.”

The support from the engineering staff have taken a weight off her shoulders, being more than understanding of her family commitments. Cheryl is an advocate for attending lectures, stating that if she doesn’t come to campus, she will often find herself doing the washing or ironing instead of study.

“The teachers have all been really good. My son has attended a few water engineering and concrete classes!”

Cheryl attributes her success at university to the wealth of life experience she has acquired from delaying university study. In many instances, the skills learnt from this life experience allows mature age students to handle university even better than school-leavers. Now, Cheryl has clear career goals she is determined to achieve.

“I would really love to do geothermal energy. Which is still small in Australia. There’s only half a dozen companies. And there’s only one operational plant. But some of my electives will be more themed towards that.”

Despite sacrificing a social life at times, Cheryl believes university study is one of the best experiences of your life.

“There’s lots of hurdles with everything. And it might take you twenty years instead of four to get to the end. But I think if you want to, you can do it. Just try. What’s the worst thing that can happen?”