On paper, Stewart Kirkland is just your regular first year Psychology student at Edinburgh Napier. He attends his classes, studies in the library, exercises in the gym, partakes in extra-curricular activities and enjoys socialising with his friends. The only difference is, he’s spent 13 years with the RAF!
After decades of putting his life on the line for others, Stewart Kirkland goes back to university after a glistening professional career in the RAF and the Police Force. However, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the veteran.
In 1980, after achieving his first qualification - English O Level via night school - he proceeded to enlist with the Royal Air Force at 18 years of age. For the next 13 years of his life, Stewart would go on to serve at multiple bases around the UK before spending seven years in Germany along with detachments in Sardinia and Sicily (Italy).
After over a decade on the road, he decided to pursue a more stable career to be able to start a family. The skills that allowed him to become a Sergeant in the RAF allowed him to pursue a career in the Police Force, where he spent the next 20 years of his life.
It was during this time that Stewart really became aware of the impact of psychology.
He said “During the August 2011 riots I was deployed to London and Leeds where psychology and crowd behaviour really got my attention. I was interested in why people suddenly became criminalised and how I could become more involved in investigating this phenomenon”.
In 2017, Stewart was made aware of the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP), a programme for mature students to re-enter education. Later on that year, Stewart successfully enrolled on Edinburgh Napier’s Psychology course, where his past experience provided him a smooth transition into education and his military mindset took most of the stress out of his assessments.
Outwith his studies, Stewart has turned a lot of his attention to philanthropy work, volunteering for “Choices For Life” an initiative in conjunction with Police Scotland and the Army. Stewart is also a volunteer caseworker with veterans charity, SSAFA and even got involved with the 2018 Special Olympics at Stirling University supporting students with various disabilities in all aspects of the competition.
But, just how does he find the time to do it all? A clone? Magic?
“Planning.” He said.
“Previous military experience has shown me that prior planning, prevents poor performance and this is a skill many others on the course are yet to realise. By maintaining a good degree of planning around my coursework this allows me free time where I can fulfil the role of programme representative on my course.”
Stewart’s quest to share his life experiences and wisdom with others continues as he shares his SWAP experiences with audiences at Forth Valley College and University of Edinburgh. He hopes to continue to raise awareness of the privilege awarded to those in Scotland and encourage others to pursue the free education opportunities available to them because, in the words of Stewart Kirkland “you are never too old to learn.”