Ok, I admit it. I have been an OU student for 2 years, but it was not until about 6 months ago that I took any notice of the Students Association. I knew it existed but had no idea what it did. It was just there in the background and occasionally I might get an email about something which typically received a cursory glance before being promptly put in the trash.
This all changed last summer when I attended the campus in Milton Keynes as part of conference organised by the Faculty of Business and Law. I was not expecting to find much more than a few bland buildings. After all, why would a distance learning university have a big campus? For anyone who has visited the campus, you will know that I was in for a big surprise! As part of the conference, we had a tour of the campus and it was certainly an eye opener for me and I could not believe the size of the place. It was at this point that I started to realise that there was more to the OU than just staring at a laptop screen!
Throughout the weekend, I was able to speak to these strange people who gave up their time for the benefit of others. They were there to make sure we did not get lost, give talks or sell us OU branded merchandise (amongst many other jobs), yet they were students! Why would they give up your time and travel from different parts of the country for nothing in return? Again, I was wrong! As I spoke to them, I could hear the passion they had for the Students Association and the positive role they can have on the lives of other students. They genuinely loved what they did and wanted to make a difference!
Returning home after the weekend, the whole experience got me intrigued. So, for the first time, I had a really good look at the Students Association website. I discovered the support they offered, the shop (I do not think my wallet will ever forgive me!), the background to the organisation and, importantly for my personal journey, the current opportunities section. I wanted to play a part in this! I applied, naively, to sit on the Central Disciplinary Committee, without knowing much about the role and experience desired. Luckily, my enthusiasm was recognised, and I was encouraged to apply for the role of a Central Committee Representative and ended up being appointed to the Law Board of Studies.
Attending my first meeting was nerve wracking!! I do not think I spoke more than a handful of words, but I did listen! This gave me the confidence for my next meeting, where I was able to make my presence felt! And do you know what? I felt appreciated, valued and most importantly I felt like I had made a difference! It showed to me that we, as students, need to have our voices heard! It also showed me that there was willingness to listen to our voices too!
In between my first two meetings, I also volunteered at the graduation ceremony in Cardiff, which was an amazing personal experience and helped fuel my drive in my own studies. I also attended a training session for new volunteers, where I was able to speak with others and find out why they wanted to volunteer. And so, my fondness for the Association continued to grow! And whilst being a CCR is great, my curiosity got the better of me, when an opportunity to attend the Central Executive Committee meeting and annual dinner as an observer arose so I decided to apply!
Thankfully I was offered the chance to attend. Soon followed a description of the weekend, what it would entail and access to the papers to be discussed. Excitement started to build but so did the nerves. At this stage, I only knew a handful of people and whilst I would be comfortable around them, how would I fair around the others? In particular, at the annual dinner on the Friday night with senior members of the OU staff in attendance.
I need not have worried. I could not have been more warmly welcomed and I felt like I belonged from the first minute. I sat next to nearly everyone at some point, whether that was at breakfast, during the meeting or a drink in the bar before dinner. In one way, it felt like my very first meeting all over again, where I spent a lot time listening, but I had also gained confidence since then, and was comfortable providing my opinions. These were listened to with respect, and I managed to learn more about the organisation in them two days than I could have ever hoped to. I went from the quiet guy stood in the corner nervous on day one to conversing with the Students Association President at the final lunch over my opinions on some of the process.
So, how did I go from someone who had no idea about the OU Students Association to attending the Central Executive Committee meeting, held in MK Dons Stadium, in six months? I took the first step! Definitely the hardest step, but the most important on a journey you will not forget!