In Autumn 2018, I was just starting Level 2 of my Open Degree and looking forward to a module that promised to be absolutely fascinating to me (E214: Equality, Participation and Inclusion). I’d enjoyed my first 2 years with The Open University and was hoping to start developing my knowledge in my specific area of interest, namely social mobility or ‘Widening Participation’ in Higher Education, getting further engaged with the
student community and my studies. Thankfully, that opportunity wasn’t far away – I spotted an advert offering opportunities to shadow the Open Degree team in various ways, as part of the wider Student Shadowing initiative. One of the possibilities mentioned was to support the team at a conference, which sounded an ideal opportunity to find out more about research in my area of interest and possible routes of progression, so I found a free hour and wrote an application.
Luckily for me, this was accepted, and the team wrote to me to offer me the opportunity to support them in running a talk or workshop for the Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching Conference held at Keele University in April 2019. Rehana Awan, Student Communications and Engagement Manager (you might know her from The OU ads on Channel 4!) got in touch to start planning, and over the next few months, we met three times to write a proposal for the conference, plan the session and have a final run-through. I felt right from the outset that Rehana was genuinely interested in my personal perspective as a student, and was really appreciative of the time and consideration that she gave to make it a valuable opportunity for myself (and something that would add to my existing experience), as well as the Open team; essentially I was being given personalised one-to-one mentoring! She helped me to utilise my existing skills while developing others, and was particularly patient and supportive with my own personal nemesis, public speaking!
The conference itself was nerve-wracking, fascinating, and loads of fun to boot! I spent a couple of days with Rehana and her colleagues Jay and Helen, attending the conference presentations and workshops, seeing them deliver their own sessions, and really feeling part of the #OUFamily. And right at the end, I gave my presentation, which was a talk about my own personal journey as an Open Degree student, building my own custom degree to suit my interests and aspirations. It was a really nerve-wracking experience for me standing up in a lecture theatre to talk about myself but it went really well, and people, much to my surprise, seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say!
The experience of shadowing the Rehana and her colleagues has been incredibly valuable for me. Thanks to their commitment to making the experience suit my interests and development needs, I’ve developed various key skills for my career, boosted my confidence and have been armed with lots of tools to describe and value my Open Degree to potential employers. And just as important, it’s given me a real sense of belonging to the OU Community of staff and students that I’ve met along the way. I’d very much encourage any OU student to grab any similar opportunities with open arms (and an open mind!).