Designing a fresh start
Returning to university after years of life experience is both challenging and liberating, as Paul Hendy has discovered. Genevieve Sanchez reports.
From an early age Paul Hendy was always interested in construction and design.
"As far back as I can remember, I have always dismantled things, questioned how they were constructed, what they did and why, and then rebuilt them, sometimes I'm sure, infuriating my parents," Paul said.
He specialised in industrial design in the United Kingdom, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bristol Polytechnic in 1984. After working as an industrial designer for eight years, Paul was made redundant and found work installing beer and soft drink machines in pubs in the south-west of England.
"It was a great situation; I bought the business and went on to build it up from two people to 20 staff in less than two years," Paul said.
Paul attributes that success to the fact that he employs the principles of design in whatever he does, including business: if there's a problem, he finds the solution.
"Generic design ability is a wonderfully versatile skill to have."
Leaving the small business world behind, he took up the opportunity to work in conjunction with a London-based architectural company, where he completed numerous industrial design commissions and merged his design and manufacturing knowledge with architecture.
Paul and his partner emigrated to the Southern Hemisphere in 2001 for a "fresh start", settling on New Zealand's South Island. This sea change also saw him return to the world of small business, buying a curtain-and-blind manufacturing company which employed 20 staff.
Moving to Australia a few years later, Paul decided to return to study.
"I missed the whole process of design," he said.
"I looked at five universities before choosing Adelaide, which has a similar feel to Nelson, New Zealand, where I was living at the time. It also allowed me to cut the three-year BA course to only a single year − intensive as it was, but important to someone in his early 40s.
"I went to university as an open book, blank pages ready to be written upon. It was both enlightening and perhaps the most challenging and stressful time in my life to date, probably beating that of employing 20 staff in the UK."
Paul went on to complete a Master of Architecture degree, graduating in 2008 with six awards to his credit, including the Architects Board of South Australia Travel Award and Boral's Construction Award.
After graduating he met his now business partner, Brett Aylen, at an awards ceremony and they casually chatted about starting up a business together. Twelve months later, TS4 Architecture was founded and they can already count among their achievements a shortlisted place in the Zero Carbon House Challenge at Lochiel Park.
As a mature-age student, Paul made an active decision to mix with his peers which he says helped with his time at university and he now has good friends half his age.
"If used carefully and in a positive way, life experience can have a very advantageous effect, whether it gives you the ability to challenge your tutors more articulately or drives you to work 65 hours a week.
"The end result for me was that I took from my time at university understanding and knowledge that has altered the direction of my life, my lifestyle and opened my eyes to learning again."
In 2010, nearly 500 students commenced at the University of Adelaide in the "mature age" or "special entry" category.
Audrey Stratton, Transition Adviser at the University of Adelaide, said that mature age students faced many challenges when returning to study, including family and financial responsibilities, isolation and generation gap issues.
"Even students in their late 20s talk about being worried about looking old and out of place amongst the youngsters!" Audrey said.
"The reality is that mature age students are often more committed to study and do well because they haven't come to uni by 'default' or family pressures. It's a conscious choice that has involved sacrifice and planning with clear career goals in mind." ■
For more information on entering university as a mature age student through the Special Tertiary Admissions Test (STAT) go to www.adelaide.edu.au/study/non-school/stat/