Arc Universities

Alison Whaley is Director of Student Experience at Cranfield University. In early 2022, she worked with the Arc Universities Group, and nine students from across the region, on the inaugural Arc Student Panel. In this blog, she shares the journey and key takeaways from this experience.

It was in late 2021 that I was first asked to be part of the inaugural ARC Student Panel. At that time the specifics of this were not fully defined, but the overall concept appealed to me so much. The objective of the student panel was to put the student voice at the heart of the event, and gain insight from nine unique and inspiring students. As Director of Student Experience, at Cranfield University, the student voice is something I am passionate about. It was clear to me at that point that the only possible answer to being involved was a resounding ‘yes!’

I joined early conversations. Discussions around how to engage students in this, selection criteria, topics and timeline. As the ideas developed, my role as host for the final student panel was confirmed. This meant that I would get to be in the Grenville Turner Studios at Cranfield University, and ensure all the students got a chance to share their thoughts with an audience. What a great opportunity!

Once the student panel was confirmed, I was able to meet all the students and get to know them through a series of online meetings. These meetings offered the students a chance to get to know each other, the project team and they were also able to speak with topic experts to help refine and develop their thoughts regarding; Community, Environment, Economy, Connectivity and Place.

At the same time, March 2022, I had a pretty unpleasant bout of Covid. It meant I couldn’t join every online meeting, but I was present enough to start to get to know the different characters on the panel and their thoughts. I had also been lucky enough to be part of the initial review of their audition recordings, so already had a great intro to these students. What was clear about this group of students, was that they were confident in their own thoughts, yet clearly curious to also learn more from each other. A perfect balance. Their energy and enthusiasm was infectious. It was clear I was in the company of people who were destined to make a difference in this world. Every time I met with the students it made me more determined, first and foremost, to ensure the webinar was everything they hoped it would be.

On the day of the panel, I met two of the students in the studio. They were able to join me directly and then the other seven students all came in remotely from their own locations. We got briefed, tech tests were complete, sound checks continued, and I worried about whether my rather fab pink shoes would be seen on camera or would stay hidden behind the studio table! During all of this we were getting ready and energised to keep the conversation flowing for 1.5 hours. Admittedly this was the longest webinar I had ever hosted and I did wonder if energy or content may falter. But once we got started it was clear I had no need to be concerned. The students fed off each other’s thoughts and energy. And the impact of their words was felt throughout. Strong views on action we all need to take, responsibility for issues and an overwhelming optimism for the future that they are keenly going to be part of. I kept on having moments throughout where I had to remind myself I was hosting a webinar and I needed to keep it to time – I lost myself in their inspiring words.

And then it was done. The excitement that often comes after an event like that was palpable. We congratulated each other, laughed, said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. But what was clear then, and remains clear now, is that was not goodbye at all. The webinar was just the beginning. By bringing students together from across the ARC Universities Group, we gave a voice to the future generations, but also showcased the impact that this region really will make in the future. Excellent ideas, refined thinking, collaboration, drive and ambition. That is the best way to describe the event and the remarkable nine minds that joined me that day. And if that isn’t a reason to look hopefully to the future, and imagine what might be next, then I don’t know what is!

Watch the webinar here.

Alison Whaley is Director of Student Experience at Cranfield University, where she leads on student focused initiatives across the university.

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