We chatted with the Area Representatives of Wales (Hanna Silk) and International Students (Kate Wells) and asked what their recent highlights have been as volunteers in order to share an insight into the type of work that Area Reps get involved in.
So, Area Reps, what have been your biggest highlights so far?
Kate: I was co-opted into this role, which means I wasn't elected, but instead I volunteered to take on the role. However before becoming the co-opted rep for Continental Europe, I had sat alone studying for two years, wondering whether there was anyone else out there who wasn't in the UK!
Now that I've been in the role for eight months or so, I understand there are many fellow students who live far, far away. There are two highlights to being in this role; the first is that it is a great opportunity to meet other students, to support them, and to build a community and support network for each other. I haven't yet met anyone who lives near me (I'm currently in France!), but some are not too far away; this role gives a sense of being part of something which sitting alone in your bedroom/study/garden shed whilst you study doesn't.
The second part of this role that I've really enjoyed is meeting my fellow volunteers, who are a bunch of people that seem to have endless energy, enthusiasm and effervescence. They are also pub quiz supremos!
I have had the opportunity whilst being a volunteer to meet OU staff members, and take part in discussion panels on various subjects, which has been fascinating, and I feel that my (and hence the international students') voice has not only been heard, but listened to.
Unlike other area rep roles, the international rep has no policy duties, so it is focussed on "straightforward" community building, and support. There is always more to be done for the community, but we hold regular events, and will be looking at putting out a quarterly newsletter, as well as investigating more ways to be in touch with students.
A recent highlight was the 2022 Conference, where I enjoyed talks from notable speakers, more interactive sessions on various topics (for example the future of exams in the OU), and a pub quiz (where I performed dismally). It was great to "meet" other students, and I would encourage everyone who has the chance to attend Conference in the future; its current "online" status means that those of us who live far from Milton Keynes have an opportunity to be involved.
Hanna: Like Kate, I was delighted to be co-opted to the Student Leadership Team in August last year as Area Association Representative for Wales. One of the main things I love about my role as a Nation Rep within the Student Leadership Team is working with enthusiastic and welcoming volunteers, staff and fellow students on projects that make a positive impact on the OU Student experience. The scope of the role is varied and flexible with plenty of opportunities to work with students and staff across the Open University, the Open University in Wales and the Students Association.
I have regular meetings with staff from the OU in Wales office to share information and work on projects together. Similarly, there are lots of opportunities to reach out to students to share and gather information, including online meet-ups and events, forums chats and social media platforms. I recently contributed to an OU in Wales new student induction event, talking about the support that is available to students. My staff contact from the OU in Wales, Alayla, joined the Students in Wales St David’s Day Coffee Morning on the 1st March to share information about projects that are taking place to support and engage OU students studying in Wales.
I enjoyed working with OU staff on promoting the Grow Project to students in Wales. We were able to celebrate the first bilingual Hoot article and the introduction of more bilingual communications generally which I hope marks the start of greater opportunities for Welsh speaking students to be better represented during their learning journey.
Like Kate, another highlight was attending my first Conference weekend in January. I had heard a lot of good things about Conference and it certainly lived up to its reputation with some fantastic speakers and events. There was a good balance between attending to listen to inspirational and entertaining guest speakers and taking a more active role in conversations such as the consultation events. During Conference, I chaired the Q + A with the OU Nation Directors which was a fantastic opportunity to meet the Directors of the Open University in Wales, Ireland and Scotland and hear about the exciting and innovative projects happening in each of the nations.
For the remainder of my term as Nation Rep, I am really looking forward to working with other students to set up an Association club for students in Wales, hosting more online events with guest speakers and activities linked to the Association’s 50th celebrations and generally continuing to inform, represent, support and build on our community of students in Wales.
Elections are coming up, and if anyone is interested in standing for any role or has any questions, please visit our election page on our website.