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Sara on teachers, inspirational people and their invaluable impact.

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This week I caught up with my university tutor, Lynne Baxter.

I was absolutely thrilled that she had travelled down from Scotland to be there for my graduation ceremony. And even more thrilled to find out that, 18 years on, she’s still supporting and championing students at the University of York.

And it got me thinking. As we push forward through life, it’s all too easy to forget the teachers we’ve encountered over the years and the huge impact they’ve had on our lives and careers. I was lucky enough to have her as my tutor in my final year of university. Lucky because she listened, inspired and helped me in so many ways during a really significant time in my life.

Teaching truly is a vocation, and looking back on my early years it’s been really eye-opening to highlight all of  those people who really did play a big part in shaping the person I went on to become. I hope they all know and appreciate how aware and grateful I am for the critical role they played in my life.

Lynne is definitely one of those people. She was the person who got me through that wild, final year at the University of York.

Now, if you don’t know the story, that was the year I had the hair-brained idea of starting a business whilst studying to graduate. I know, I know…but bear with me.

I had spotted a gap in the market for a product during my year in industry at a small craft company, and I’m the sort of person who, if I’m doing something – I’m doing it today. So, I was full of ideas, full of enthusiasm and raring to get started!

But the university tutors were concerned. They were worried I was stretching myself too thin. That I wouldn’t have the bandwidth to launch a business, study at the same time and do well in both. I was discouraged from launching the business and warned that my studies would suffer if I went ahead with it.

Lynne was different. She listened to me, recognised my determination and looked to support me in making a decision which was, ultimately, mine to make. She saw that I was passionate about launching my business and looked for ways to facilitate and link a fledgling business and my studies together.

She came up trumps, suggesting that I use my own business as a case study for a module and also my final dissertation. Because I was interested and incredibly passionate about it, I threw myself into the research and created quality university work that was also useful for my business. Win win!

Lynne had really backed me and I was so determined to do her proud, prove others wrong and also to achieve what I knew I was capable of. I wanted to make myself proud as well I think.

I’m not going to sugar coat it, it was a lot of work but the end result was worth it. I’m pleased to report that I got top marks for my dissertation, graduated top of the class with a first class honours degree and as the highest achieving student on the course.

My dissertation was about new product development processes in small businesses. And when I first started speaking to business advisors about sourcing suppliers, I presented them with my hard-bound 250-page dissertation to review for insight. It was also an invaluable resource for myself in those early days!

Lynne was a big part of that success, without her advice and staunch support would I have felt able to forge my way forward in that final year? And the lessons I took from that experience, the importance of drive, self-belief and determination have stayed with me and proved invaluable over the years.

We’re still in touch to this day.  Lynne has been to our offices to conduct research and was a guest of honour at my company’s 10th birthday bash a few years ago.

She always wanted me to do a postgraduate degree. I wanted to create my own business.

And all these years later, she got her wish, sitting in the audience as I was presented with an honorary doctorate degree at the University of York.

It was such a special day, made better by having her there with me.

Thank you Lynne!