Faye Banks was written off as factory fodder when she left school at 16 with no qualifications and took unskilled work filling teabags on a production line.
The victim of a violent broken home, her childhood was spent moving around a succession of foster families and care institutions. School was something she rarely attended.
Nine years later she is celebrating being named as Young Woman Engineer of the Year, the latest in a string of awards she has won after going back to college and turning her life around.
She endured the drudgery of working on a production line for a year before taking the life-transforming decision to return to education. She attended Wakefield college in Yorkshire where in one year she passed eight GCSEs, five at grade A.
She was then taken on as an apprentice by a plastics manufacturer and added NVQs and an HNC to her list of qualifications.
Now she is studying for a masters degree in mechanical engineering at the Open University so that she can fulfil her ambition of becoming a chartered engineer and travel the world as a leading machinery designer.
"When I left school I had no direction in life," she said. "People told me I was a failure and I believed them. I was stigmatised because of my family background.
"I became so frustrated in my first job, I realised there was no way I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. Going to college gave me the opportunity to change. People there believed in me and gave me so much support. Achieving this award is just a dream for me. It is fantastic."
Award sponsor the Institute of Incorporated Engineers said before presenting her with her pound;1,000 prize: "Faye's determination to succeed is second to none. She's no stranger to adversity but her strength and desire to do well have led her to become a well-established engineer."
Over the next 12 months she will visit schools and colleges throughout the country promoting engineering as a career choice for other young women.
Ms Banks said it was in the tea-packing plant that she developed her passion for engineering. Whenever any technical faults occurred on her line, she had to wait for an engineer to arrive.
To understand the problems herself, she began to liaise with the engineers and that sparked her ambition.
She now works for Lever Faberge, who headhunted her two years ago after she won the Yorkshire Woman of Achievement Business Award and the Mary George Memorial Prize.
They wanted her to bring one of their deodorant production lines up to world-class standard, and sponsored her for her masters degree.
She is also an ambassador for the NSPCC, visiting children's homes to tell her story and helping others to believe that they can achieve similar success.