Shaila Karim has been working as a member of a front-facing student support team at the University of East London (UEL) for ten years. Shaila thoroughly enjoys her role being the first point of call for students, inspiring and empowering them to overcome barriers and achieve their goals, giving them the information that they need to make sound decisions. Her passion for supporting learning and teaching has seen her win UEL's Student-Led Award for ‘Best Support Staff’. Here Shaila talks about her journey to Fellowship and how it has impacted upon her continuing professional development.
I am currently the only Student Support Advisor to have the title of Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) - I hope to inspire and encourage other members of my team to highlight the capabilities of support staff and how we significantly contribute to improving learning and teaching.
I remember receiving an email in relation to gaining accreditation with the HEA and although I found the email of interest, I totally dismissed the fact that I could become a fellow thinking it was only for teaching staff. It was only after I was enthusiastically encouraged to fill out the application form by my line manager Susy and by Chris who was the University's Leader in Teaching and Learning, did I realise that the accreditation also applied to support staff. When I asked Susy and Chris why they had wholeheartedly supported me in the process of becoming a fellow, they explained that they had witnessed my love for supporting learning and teaching as well as my zeal for new challenges and a desire to develop myself professionally. I feel very fortunate to work alongside supportive colleagues and to be working in a University which has a very supportive HEA framework.
In relation to the HEA application itself - I have to admit that I found it a real challenge because it demanded a great deal of reflection which does not come naturally to me. However, the positives of the process far outweighed the challenges. I have gained valuable reflection skills which has had a huge impact upon the way that I work. I am continuously thinking about linking practice with pedagogy - questioning how I work and whether there is a better or more efficient way of working.
An example of this is when I decided to use my knowledge of learning theories and e-learning design principles to guide the creation of the Psychology Noticeboard on Moodle (following feedback from questionnaires and having liaised directly with Psychology students to identify their needs). My aim was to support students learning and in particular those with reading difficulties and those less experienced in self-study. The Psychology Noticeboard was well received because it gave students direct access to clearly organised and up-to-date guidance information enhancing support for distance learners as well as deaf students. The noticeboard is now lodged firmly as part of the School of Psychology information resource system, making it easy for students to pull information for themselves thus fostering independent and self-directed learning.
Becoming a Fellow has had an impact upon my professional development because it has encouraged me to search out new opportunities and challenge myself by taking on new projects outside of my comfort zone. I have for example put myself forward as a mentor, my role is to assist my mentee to explore and build their understanding of their degree as well as the world of work, facilitating the mentee to work out what action to take based on their new insight. This experience continues to be invaluable because not only am I learning how to support my mentee throughout the final year of their degree but I am also supporting them in finding relevant work. This means I am adding to and helping to steer the University’s strategic objectives and therefore helping to make a positive difference.
I have not only actively involved myself in building relationships with students but have also gone the extra mile to build relationships with colleagues in different departments, sharing best practice. I have readily participated in allowing colleagues from other departments to work shadow me as well as participating in Induction related activities and graduation ceremonies, continuing to provide students with a positive experience till the very end, congratulating them on their success.
In addition to the above, I put myself forward for work shadowing at another university so that I could assist in building links between the Hub at UEL and that of other institutions. The experience was extremely positive and worthwhile. The Director of Student Support sent me an email of thanks which read: ’thank you for undertaking this shadowing experience and for being such a great ambassador to both UEL as well as the Hub and Student Support team’.
My journey to fellowship has made me realise that it is important to positively impact not just a particular student or department within the university but the university as a whole. Becoming an Associate Fellow of the HEA has given me the confidence to highlight student views and concerns. I believe this has led me in winning the UEL student-led award of ‘Best Support Staff’. Knowing that students had officially recognised my passion and handwork in trying to provide them with a positive experience and that I had impacted upon them so deeply has left me with a feeling of a huge sense of accomplishment.
If you are considering becoming a Fellow, especially those who are not academics – who may not feel that it is something that they can achieve, I would definitely recommend you pursue that goal. The application was not an easy ride for me, however the opportunities that I have been given after becoming a fellow and the skills that I have developed, continue to develop and continue to use will stay with me for a lifetime, assisting me in adding to and helping to steer the University's strategic objectives and therefore helping to make a positive difference. More importantly, I have realised how support staff significantly contribute to improving learning and teaching.
For further information in becoming an Associate Fellow please click here.