Below is account of my first five months as Project Assistant for a widening participation programme. The first few weeks were a steep learning curve, which I chronicled at the time, the rest of the post is a reflection of the five months so far. Every day presents a new opportunity to learn something about myself, my technical abilities, and the world of widening participation in higher education. (Long post warning: bonus points if you make it to the end!)
My first week as a graduate intern has been completed and I have not made a single cup of tea! One week on the job and I can already tell that this is going to be such an invaluable experience in so many respects. We’re still in handover at the moment so it’s been lovely to have my predecessor around to show me the ropes and answer any questions I may have. Within this first week I have had a catch up with each member of the team, compiled and sorted data, managed communications, and begun to take control of the social media accounts. Looking to the next coming weeks, I will expand these duties and begin project planning, which I am really looking forward to!
Settling in to my new role well, and I’m looking forward to the challenges the job will bring. It’s the last week of handover, and I’m kind of sad to see Michelle go because we get on really well! I’m working with spreadsheets a lot, and although I’m not a whizz-kid-genius, I am getting the hang of excel (which is something past me would never believe). Also this week, I moved into my official desk. Facing into the office is much better than facing the wall, and after adding a few pictures and photos it looks pretty cool.
Busy is the word of the week! I really feel like an integrated part of the team, and like I’m putting my mark on the role. My latest project has been the launch of the Snapchat account, which I believe will improve student engagement with the programme. To mark the occasion I hosted two giveaways using the Snapchat account, both of which were successful (although one campus did greatly outperform the other!) Also in the social media side of my job, I proposed a solution to the lack of engagement on the programme’s Facebook page, which I will continue to work on behind the scenes into next semester. Away from social media, we’re taking thirty students away on an Adventure Weekend this week and not only will it be a fun experience for students and staff alike, but it also coincides with my birthday!
Five Month Reflection
Wow. The months are passing quickly. Social media and comms remain a crucial part of the role, and I am learning the best way to connect and engage students via different platforms. What works for our Facebook content doesn’t necessarily work for our Twitter or Instagram profiles, and another approach is needed again for Snapchat and newsletters. There’s also a difference between our public Facebook page, and private groups were we communicate only with the students we work with, the key to this being understanding the audience. Different students engage with different communication platforms, and the platforms themselves require different approaches.
Away from social media and comms, I have been developing skills in the project assistant side of the role by developing and promoting a series of events and opportunities for mature students and student parents. This section of the student body has different priorities and needs to the ‘typical’ student (18 y/o straight from school), and it is important to recognise this when attempting to engage this demographic of widening participation students. So far we have made pantomime tickets available for student parents who wish to take the their children to panto over the Christmas and New Year period, rebooted a previous attempt at a Mature Student Cafe (where students can meet others in a similar position) and ran a trip to Bayfordbury Observatory for mature students, student parents and their children. This demographic of students has their own targeted comms, and ‘priority booking’ for events which may be more difficult for them to attend due to factors outside of their university lives. This allows arrangements to be made in respect to those factors, giving these students more of a chance to attend the events, due to advance notice.
Data analysis continues to be part of my role, and I am feeling much more confident with the tasks I am given and take on through initiative. This includes things such as identifying new students for the programme, and maintaining and updating databases with student information and event attendance. I have also been involved in creating reports from data from events for the outreach team in our department, and reformatting previous reports using an online report and infographic software, to create an annual report for the team for the year 15/16. Use of this software is something that I helped to research, and has been a benefit in many ways. As well as reports I am able to use my skills (which I first developed for my blog graphics!) to create infographics for our students and for the public. Examples of this include a recap of first semester events, and graphics for the launch of the international opportunities and mature student programme. This has really improved the look of our social media pages, and I am taking on the task of putting forward a re-branding of the programme to foster a unity and identity among the students.
I initiated the programme’s first mini ‘social media campaign’ to get students involved, excited and engaged in our international opportunities. The mini campaign across social media (snapchat, Facebook and instagram) encouraged students to like/screenshot the photo of the opportunity they are most excited for, raising awareness of the opportunities and encouraging them to apply. We also streamed the launch event on Facebook for the first time, allowing students to follow along at home or catch up on the information later if they were unable to attend. This was particularly successful with around 60 students tuning in at the time, and over 220 students viewing the video in the week following the event. For our communications I created a specific graphic to use with all email communications and some social media posts. Although the graphic itself is very simple, it helps student to identify which posts/emails/newsletters contain information about international opportunities at a glance, which improves engagement on social media and read/open rates of emails and newsletters.
On another note, another part of the first five months of my internship has been office experience. It sounds really unimportant, but I have been rejected from a few jobs in the past because I lacked experience in an office environment (my previous jobs having all been in retail or service/hospitality). I really enjoy going to work, and I am learning so much from being in this environment and from working alongside, and with, members of the department, who all bring their own skills and knowledge from various sectors and experiences. I love this internship and don’t want it to end!