“I really enjoy what I do. No two days are ever the same in this role. It’s not like a typical nine-to-five, come to your desk, deal with some emails, then go home position. You’re always doing something different.” – Emma Palmer, Student Engagement Officer, University of Hull
Emma Palmer works as a Student Engagement Officer at the University of Hull and is also an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Here she talks about her journey from being a budding stage management teacher to the many aspects of working in student engagement, together with the part the HEA has played in her professional development.
I started getting involved in student engagement back in 2012. I’d done my PGCE at Hull College, because I initially wanted to teach stage management, before becoming Student Union President of Hull College on a sabbatical. That brought the whole issue of student engagement to my attention. As Student Union President I started working with course representatives and the college itself in terms of making sure students were involved in every process, such as providing feedback. We were also going through a QAA (Quality Assurance Agency) review at the time and one of the reviewers happened to say ‘You’d make a good student reviewer’. And that’s what happened – I became a QAA reviewer. After I’d done a couple of reviews in different institutions, I found I was becoming even more engrossed in student engagement.
Just as I was finishing my term as Student Union President, I saw this job come up at the University of Hull as a Student Engagement Officer. I applied, even though I didn’t think I’d get it – I’d never had a full-time job outside college and wasn’t sure I’d have the experience. So I was really pleased, if a bit surprised, when I got it.
At that time the Student Engagement Officers were all located in different faculties around the University of Hull and there was only six of us. That was in 2014. As we have gone on over the years, and got more involved in different projects – things like peer mentoring in departments – we have now grown to a team of 11, all covering different specialisms. My specialism is inclusivity which is quite a broad subject covering a range of areas from teaching and learning through to the environment around the campus. All 11 of us have either started or completed their HEA Associate Fellowship, and a couple have moved on to start Fellowship. Although we are not academics, we still carry quite a bit of influence in terms of working with academics and students. It’s like a partnership. We all have roles to play on the student journey.
It wasn’t until I started at the University of Hull that I first heard about the HEA’s Fellowships. I thought ‘I’d like to get involved in that’ but I didn’t know where to start, so I waited a year to get more experience under my belt of being in the role. I knew that I could then use that experience as evidence towards it; reflecting over what I’d done, what I was proud of, what I thought I could do better. In 2016, I became an Associate Fellow, and I’ve now set my sights on Fellowship along with one of my other colleagues. We work in the same office, so it will be nice going through the process together, being able to talk things through. The sector is changing massively, so it’s good that we can learn from each other and work in unison.
I really enjoy what I do. No two days are ever the same in this role. It’s not like a typical nine-to-five, come to your desk, deal with some emails, then go home position. You’re always doing something different whether it’s meeting students to point them in the right direction, going to meetings, helping the staff support students, and so on. It definitely keeps me on my toes. It’s rewarding to see how things develop in terms of our roles and our own professional development. The HEA has helped massively on both those fronts because what you learn in your professional development can only benefit your day-to-day work. It’s like one big cycle, and at the end of the day that cycle is all about one thing – the student experience.