It’s been quite a while since I wrote a blog but
today this evening I feel inspired. Earlier today, somehow, we managed to convince over 30 industry professionals to come to Harper and share their thoughts on course direction and content for our section Environment, Sustainability and Wildlife, easily the most diverse and broad of the university. We even had an online contingency too. Having just returned from maternity leave (yes, I have a baby, she’s called Penny and is extremely cute at 13 months old) I was able to focus my efforts on today’s stakeholder engagement day which is central to the design of our curriculum going forward.
The day started with a call to action. Our world is changing, and changing really fast and we need professionals to work in the industry to provide the expertise for mitigation and, unfortunately, adaptation across all industries. The government has pledged reaching net zero by 2030 but there is a paucity of trained professionals graduating to do the heavy lifting of life cycle assessment and re-strategisation of supply chains, consumption, production etc. to reach this objective.
But, before we got into the heavy discussions of course development we had a good old fashioned icebreaker where each table was tasked with taking the letters from their organisations/companies and using them to create a witty phrase related to the environment. Thankfully I had produced an example of what I had in mind because it seemed few in the room were fans of Richard Osman’s House of Games!
The bar was set by our first table who came up with “Hug a hedge, Save the Bees, No to Planet B!” – I’m still yet to go through whether all those letters were present in their organisation names but with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation along with Natural Resources Wales and the North Shropshire Farming Group on the table, I’m confident that their answer was acceptable 😀
I couldn’t see the next table being able to top the first table but they had a good go with “Harper the Beaver for Prime Minister”. Other contributions included “Too Early for Witty Conservation” which was rather good, and even our online attendees got in on the act, changing a quote from Finding Nemo of “friends not food” becoming “friends and food” – reflecting back on this I’m hoping they weren’t advocating eating their friends! The last contribution, if the group had had the letters, was “sustainability through freshers week” but they had to settle for “far too sensible for witty” which set the tone for our next activity.
We asked our attendees to provide the key words related to their role, submitting their suggestions to Mentimeter which is a nifty online programme that collects the responses and puts them in a word cloud. Here is the word cloud indicating the breadth of expertise we were so privileged to have in the room.
Our next questions were around emerging themes and also the prevalence of degree apprenticeships. I was very surprised to learn that 15 of 30 guests in the room employed degree apprentices. Of course they’re a very useful way to have member of staff who is trained exactly as you like and the promise of staying in the role for a number of years. Hopefully we’ll get to consider degree apprenticeships in our new provision.
The day moved on to consider the UN Sustainable Development Goals and how each person’s role was contributing to a particular UN SDG. At this point our attendees were mixed up to hopefully give a breadth of responses for each UN SDG. We took a quick break after that activity to then reconvene into a world café.
I first encountered the World Café for knowledge gathering when attending a GLEON meeting in the US. In a World Café the attendees are split up into groups and move around the room as one. On each table there is a facilitator who guides the attendees. When you reach a table you can read the previous group’s answers and then try to think of something different to what has already been said. I split the attendees into groups based on whether I put their role as related to the environment, sustainability or wildlife and gave them a particular coloured pen to contribute with. As they moved round the room I could see then the contributions from different sub-sectors. There was also the opportunity to “up vote” suggestions by previous groups which was interesting.
Firstly attendees were asked to consider the attributes of the perfect 2028 graduate which I decided considered their aptitude, attitude, and philosophy before moving on to the graduate skills require. We split the groups into loosely Environment, Sustainability and Wildlife and they all moved around the tables with different coloured pens to show their contribution and also where they had upvoted previous suggestions. After a furious 1h30 lunch was called and the delegates fell upon the lovely spread of sandwiches and cakes that was waiting for them next door but not before a photo was taken:
The final part of the day considered how the attendees could contribute to and enhance the student journey. Offers of fieldtrips, placements, and course content were quickly forthcoming and I so look forward to seeing how we work these into our new curricula. Finally a small group took the offer of a campus tour where we could show off our excellent teaching labs, lecture theatres and research areas including glass houses and growth chambers.
What I learned from today was how enthusiastic and interested industry is in our future courses. As someone pointed out, we need each other. I also learned how useful it is to have good people behind you. From the husband who minded our baby who has come down with another cold from nursery who then also rolled up his sleeves and helped prep the day this morning, to the work colleagues who pitched in and helped run the day even though they were very much feeling their way to the graduates who I relied on to carry the online provision because that’s what a Harper graduate does, everyone helped to make today a success. I’ve had to have two naps through writing this – time for bed!
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