What comes around goes around

Alumna Dorothy Dix was able to change her life through getting a good education. Now she works tirelessly to give that opportunity to others.   

I was born and raised by a single mother of three in Zimbabwe. She struggled to make ends meet but always taught us that education would be the only way that we could have a better life than she had.

My earliest memory of meeting my father as a child was when he attended prize giving days at school. Having rejected me even before I was born, my young mind soon associated being loved and accepted with performing well at school.  Throughout my childhood, I enjoyed learning and would always be found happily immersed in a text book rather than playing. I yearned to experience ‘the good life’ that everyone told me education would bring.

My life changed at sixteen. Having just done well in my GCSEs, my results were published in a national newspaper and I received a full scholarship to study at The Red Cross Nordic United World College in Norway with 200 pupils from 85 different countries. I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about different cultures and languages while forming lifelong friendships. During the summer, I picked strawberries to raise pocket money to come to the UK.

After two years, I received a scholarship from the University of Reading where I studied Psychology and Physiology. I came to Reading with only £70 to my name and a rugged suitcase. I worked part time to cover all my living expenses and when not working, I studied.. Education completely changed my life and opened doors for me that were a dream growing up in Africa. As I walked into The Great Hall on graduation day, I vowed that one day I would give back the gift of education that had been so freely given to me. If I could change one child’s life, my life would be complete.

I started sending my mother money to help orphans that she had met through her church. Gradually word got round and she received increasing requests for support. In 2012, with friends from Reading Family Church, my husband and I set up a charity, Creating Better Futures. I left my paid job to run the charity full time. We give more than 100 children living in poverty the opportunity to go to school and feed 3000 twice a day at school. If one of them can one day achieve their dreams, we will have fulfilled our mission.  Creating Better Futures is a small but growing charity based in Reading which is not only improving the outcomes of orphans and vulnerable children in Zimbabwe, but is also having a local impact in Reading and the UK.

Since graduating, I have kept close links with the University of Reading and this year I took part in the celebration of its 90th Anniversary. It was a great honour to feature in the Anniversary video. I hope that I can inspire other students to pursue their passion in life. These links with the University of Reading have led to Creating Better Futures being able to provide summer work experience placements for Reading students. In 2015 three students worked at the Creating Better Futures’ office. Through the internship programme they developed valuable workplace skills and gained experience in digital marketing and event management. This summer we will welcome two more interns from Reading University.  We’ve also been able to provide volunteer placements in Zimbabwe for some Reading alumni who spent time assessing potential sustainability projects and seeing how the children we support live. In addition, University of Reading’s RAG chose Creating Better Futures to be one of theirthree designated charities for 2016.

If you are interested in finding out how you can support Creating Better Futures, please visit their website at www.creatingbetterfutures.org.uk.

How a scholarship can change the world

Carol Murekezi was able to attend the University of Reading in 2004 because she was fortunate enough to be given the Wallace and Muriel Hirst award. We interviewed Carol to find out how this award enabled her to go on and make a difference in the sustainability of agriculture. 

WP_20150822_001What is your favourite memory as a student at Reading?
There are a lot of special memories I have from my time as a student at Reading – here are a few of the things that had a great impact on me.
1. The sessions in class we used to have on ‘strategic thinking’. These sessions in particular forced me constantly to think outside the box and eventually helped me to become a more conscientious person.
2.  We went on a number of outings with Muriel Hirst and she took me to a potted plant sale at the university and bought me a lemon (smelling) plant.  It was so lovely because it used to give my room such a lovely scent.  I also loved the homemade marmalade she used to bring me whenever she visited me.  I truly enjoyed the visits.
3. I was also very blessed to be part of the multinational group at the university.  The students at the course came from over 20 countries worldwide.  It was very interesting to get to know them.
4.  I am a Christian and I got to know a number of people from our local church group with whom we shared a great deal including going on outings together.
What did it mean to you to receive financial support while studying?
I would have never been able to do my masters degree if I did not receive the funding I did.

What are you doing now?
At the moment I am a Consultant on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards in Rwanda.  I am working with the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources under a World Bank program with emphasis on the use and management of Agro-chemicals in the farming community.

What do you enjoy most about your current role?
I have been able to contribute to policy development in a number of areas in the agricultural sector.  I have been able to contribute to the development of regulations in the seed, plant health and agro-chemical sectors.  I have also been responsible for capacity building in Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards.  I have feel very honoured to have been a part of a process to effect real change in the way things are done in the agricultural sector and, more specifically, to be a part of creating an enabling environment for the private sector to get more involved thus giving the farmer better opportunities to move forward.

What are your plans/aims for the future?
I would like to play a bigger role in agricultural development in another developing country and explore more effective/relevant methods in building capacity in the agricultural sector towards the benefit of the farming community, specifically the small holder farmers.

What would you like to say to the University of Reading’s donors who support students during their studies?
I would like to say that by supporting students during their studies, the donors do the world a great service because by doing this, they give someone who would not have otherwise had the opportunity, to make a better life for themselves and the community they live in.

Prosperity and resilience is one of our IMAGINE themes. Find out more about our agricultural and sustainability projects at www.reading.ac.uk/imagine.

Can you help our students Thrive?

Our alumni can have a real impact on the lives of the next generation of Reading students by becoming a mentor. In today’s blog alumna Natalie Tarling, our Career Mentoring Officer, tells us about how the project has been working and her personal experience in enabling alumni and students to collaborate.

Natalie Tarling photographThe University’s own career mentoring scheme has seen hundreds of students gain first-hand advice from our fantastic alumni mentors. As an alumna of Reading myself, it is great to see how generous and devoted our volunteers are to supporting undergraduates as they find their feet. One theme we see recurring is how our mentors say “I wish this scheme had existed when I was at University” and I must say that I agree with them.

Thrive was set up in 2014 consisting of a modest pilot in two departments which saw the pairing of just under one hundred students with esteemed alumni mentors. The scheme was such a success that a further four departments were added during 2015 and from this summer we are moving into providing mentors in nearly all disciplines across the University. It is a very exciting time for the mentoring team.

I have had the opportunity to get to know some of our brilliant mentors and ambitious mentees over the past two years; I have heard about the triumphs, the break-through moments, the laughs, the tears and the rollercoaster that is University life. Our students say that having a mentor who has been through it all before creates a huge sense of inspiration. We are seeing our students achieve more and more each year and it isn’t possible without our brilliant mentors. This year we want to keep this positive change happening.

A devoted career mentoring team supports all participants through every aspect of the scheme; everybody is trained, offered guidance, given support when needed and kept up to date with regular news bulletins. We have seen the effect mentoring has on our students, but we can’t do it without you.

Becoming a career mentor will only take an hour of your time per month from September onwards, but the effect remains with our students for years to come. Register your interest today or contact the team for an informal chat about how mentoring can fit around your lifestyle. We look forward to hearing from you.

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You can learn more about the impact of mentoring on our IMAGINE website.

Why have a World Youth Skills Day?

15th July is World Youth Skills Day. What does this really mean? Alumnus Chris Waterman discusses the importance of this day and why we should all get involved whatever our age!

Special days are important for all sorts of reasons: New Year’s Day is celebrated all round the world (although the Chinese have two “new year’s”) and May 1st is also a public holiday in many countries; religions have special days; and many countries have their own national days, including a National Heroes Day in Jamaica and Independence Day in quite a few countries.

So what’s special about WYSD? Well, first of all, 15th July 2016 is only the second such day, which makes it the youngest “day.” Even more important is that it is global.

Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General was clear that:

“Skills development reduces poverty and better equips young people to find decent jobs. It triggers a process of empowerment and self-esteem that benefits everyone.”

which is why the focus this year is on technical and vocational education and training (TVET).

In many developed countries, where technical and vocational education and training is readily available, the focus has moved quite sharply to the softer skills, with strong inter-personal skills often making the difference in doing really well in a job or even getting a job in the first place. This is because the ability to work in a team is now recognized as crucial and many more jobs in the service sector involve face-to-face contact with the customer.

The United Nations and national governments produce global and national policies, which global companies and local SMEs implement but I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve done, and continue to do, to develop youth skills.

I’m not sure how I’d define “youth” – although I know that mine ended half a century ago. If I stretch it to, say between 7 and 27 (rather longer than the UN of 15 to 24), it gives me license to talk about what I’m doing, at the micro level, to develop youth skills.

Most recent was last week when, as Chancellor of the West London Children’s University, I presented certificates to 70 “youths” between 7 and 11, for the hours they had put into extra-curricular activities with their schools and partner organisations. Every one of them had been empowered by their experience, which had, in turn, raised their self esteem. All of the activities involved being in a team of some sort.

Earlier in the year, on World Book Day, I organized a poetry reading in the House of Commons that 70 year six students came to and then took the tour of the Palace of Westminster. They saw that even MPs are only human beings (notwithstanding some pretty inhuman behavior of late).

I’m regularly shadowed by some older “youths” who are studying politics, law or history at A level, in the hope that they learn some facts but will also observe some of the inter-personal skills I use to influence what happens.

At the start of the school year I was on the first year sixth induction day “carousel” talking about breaking laws and making laws. I explained to the soon-to-be voters how important it was to use their skills to analyse what was on offer before putting their X in one of the boxes on the ballot paper.

I’ve looked at CVs and given mock interviews to interns and researchers looking for a first job or a new job, with bits of mentoring thrown in to develop interpersonal skills and, with Parliament and universities finishing for the summer, I’m employing an undergraduate of two to do some research and writing for me – another bit of skill-development.

I’m lucky because I control my own diary and can find time to do quite a bit that could be seen as developing youth skills, usually on a 1:1 basis. But (there is always a but), how many people who have left their youth behind them could also find time to help develop the softer skills in a some of their local youth? (I know that many do.)

When I was 11, I met an American couple on a Thames boat trip that was part of a school outing to London. They seemed incredibly old to me and when, after chatting them from Westminster to Windsor, Leonard said he would write to me, I told him he was far too busy. His reply: “if you want something done, ask a busy man.” His first letter arrived a couple of months later and we exchanged letters and Christmas cards for several years. Even with the benefit of 50 years’ hindsight, it’s hard to quantify the impact of that conversation and those letters, but it’s one of my most significant and lasting memories.

So, while we wait for the UN’s plans to filter down around the world, let’s use World Youth Skills Day to see if we can get more people involved in a small scale “process of empowerment and self-esteem” for a youth or two.

One of our IMAGINE themes is Educating for 21st Century Lives. Find out more about our education projects at www.reading.ac.uk/imagine.

IMAGINE campaign has launched!

As you may know, our IMAGINE fundraising and volunteering campaign launched on Tuesday 7 June. In today’s blog, Dale Cooper, our Director of Campaigns and Supporter Engagement reflects on what makes this campaign, and the University, so special.

DaleThe launch of our IMAGINE campaign was the culmination of many months of hard work by the team. The excitement in team was palpable as the various elements came together on the day – from organising promotional materials to arranging the venue through to welcoming the guests.

These types of events are a difficult balancing act to get right. Too much glamour and people are put off; too little and the event falls flat. Many universities hold glitzy gala dinners to launch their campaigns. We didn’t feel this was right for Reading. The impact of our research and teaching is at the heart of the IMAGINE campaign. We wanted something that was authentic, that spoke to how we influence the world for the better. But, it also needed to be engaging, appealing and thought-provoking.

This is why we decided on a panel discussion, drawing on our 90 year history and the words of our first Vice-Chancellor, we asked the panelists to consider “to dream and imagine: the impact of our research in the coming 90 years.’ Our panelists met the brief magnificently. Despite their disparate disciplines, they found fascinating connections that really highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of our work. It’s what makes our University a great institution.

We billed the launch event as a ‘friends and family’ style event and the atmosphere on the night was warm, engaged and fun. We had a government minister mixing with students, who chatted to a Mayor, who swapped business cards with academics, who reminisced with alumni. The launch event really spoke to what the IMAGINE campaign and the University of Reading is all about: people coming together in a spirit of collegiality to imagine solutions to a better world.

A video of the event and the debate will be available shortly. In the meantime, you can find out more about IMAGINE at http://www.reading.ac.uk/imagine/imagine.aspx.

A great time to get involved!

There is a lot going on with our alumni programme at the moment and things are pretty crazy in the office! We have our first ever alumni London get together tonight in Covent Garden; there is a big event coming up on Tuesday 7 June and, of course, our first ever Homecoming event is being held on the 25 June. We have also recently held events in Shanghai and Beijing and started an alumni lecture programme. We would love to know what you think of our expanding events schedule – email us on alumni@reading.ac.uk to let us know what you think about the events coming up and if you have any idea for future events.

Our volunteering programme is also expanding, with a shiny new Social Media Ambassadors scheme being launched today. If you haven’t heard about it and you would like to get involved, email me at alumni@reading.ac.uk to find out more. Also, Thrive mentoring will be rolling out across nearly all degree courses this summer giving you a chance to share your skills with the next generation. Watch this space – there will be more news on that coming soon…

And as if that wasn’t enough, we are planning to launch a new alumni website this summer alongside newly branded e-newsletters and emails which will give our future communications with you a whole new look and feel. We will be letting you know when to expect them and would really welcome your feedback. If you are not currently on our mailing lists, email alumni@reading.ac.uk to make sure you don’t miss out on all the latest news and please do share your news with us. Don’t forget we are always on the lookout for bloggers and entries for the “Your News” section of Connected so do get in touch and let us know what is happening with you!

One of the best things about my job here is seeing more and more of you getting involved in our events, volunteering and communications. Our events, communications and volunteering programmes are really developing fast and we would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions as what opportunities might interest you, our alumni. Keep in touch with an email, a phone call, or pop in and see us in Blandford Lodge on the Whiteknights campus; we will always be pleased to hear from you!

Beyond a philosophy degree

What can one do with a philosophy degree? In today’s blog post we hear from two former philosophy students who have gone on to very different careers.

Joanna
Joanna-Griffin-photo-cmpI am a Chartered Counselling Psychologist and studied my master’s at the School of Psychotherapy and Psychology at Regents College, and supervision training at the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling in London.

The psychological approach of both colleges is based on Existential philosophy so we considered many philosophers including the works of Sartre, Heidegger, and Nietzsche. Having already studied philosophy I was familiar with some of their works, but more importantly I felt comfortable with how to approach, discuss and digest philosophy.  I also utilised the skills, developed at Reading, of considering how philosophy can be applied to everyday life, how it is important to take the time out of our busy schedules to consider the bigger picture – that life is finite, we make our own choices in life and have to take responsibility for that.  The issue of Sartre’s ‘bad faith’, which I first learnt about at Reading, is something that has been particularly pertinent to me in my life and I still think of this often in my work with clients.

To have a philosophical approach to life is a very valuable thing. It is easy in our lives to get caught up in trivia, superficiality and short term issues. The ability to take a step back, analyse and reflect is something that I endeavour to do on a regular basis (and have to remind myself to do), even whilst doing something as simple as reading a newspaper.  I hope this is something all former philosophy students can keep hold of in whatever line of work they end up in.

Find out more about Joanna at her website.

Keira
From philosophy conferences to parliament, the grounding that philosophy gave me in understanding the value of knowledge, has been fundamental to my career.

I worked with the Forum for European Philosophy, before immersing myself in the Westminster bubble working for the two top political publishers and information providers.

It was in politics that I first started working with Third Sector organisations, helping them in their engagement with policy makers and stakeholders, a line which I have now chosen to pursue further by moving into fundraising and engagement for two of the industry’s leading consultancies and change-makers.

Hear more from Keira about studying philosophy at Reading in the video below.

Learn more about our Philosophy department here.

To share your story click here.

Inspiring the next generation

Did you know that our Real Estate Foundation (RREF) is working hard to increase accessibility to the real estate profession, particularly to those who come from non-traditional backgrounds? One of their projects is the Pathways to Property Summer School, which you might have read about in our magazine, Giving Matters. Our guest blogger today is Emily Archer who is part of the team that organise this event.

RREF photoThis is the time of year when I am really busy working on the Summer School. Its aim is to widen access to the real estate profession and to raise awareness of the range of careers available within the property sector to young people from non-traditional backgrounds. Because it is fully-funded it is available to anyone with an interest in the real estate profession – something that I believe is very important for this industry.

The first Summer School was in 2013, but last year was my first year working on the project. I really enjoy it because there are so many parts to the week. It offers students an exciting range of activities, including exploring current themes in property, taking part in lectures and seminars, developing an understanding of career opportunities in property and learning more about student life.

I also feel very proud when we get great feedback from our students. Callum, a Summer School 2015 attendee, told us that: “Not only has the Summer School furthered my interest in a career in property, but also motivated [me] to try harder in school to achieve the grades that will allow me [a] place on such a great course.” Knowing that we are influencing teenagers and helping them to aspire to greater things is a wonderful feeling!

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We are currently accepting applications for the Summer School and the closing date is 31st May 2016.  If you know of any year 12 students who would be interested in attending the Summer School, please encourage them to find out more and to submit an application.

A world of languages

Alumnus Michael Eckford has travelled all over the world using the languages he first learnt at Reading. From learning Cantonese swearwords to being faced by an armed North Vietnamese army he has been fortunate to have some amazing experiences.

IMG_2633In September 1963 I moved into St Patrick’s Hall straight from a public school education.  The move was also a profound cultural upheaval, but in a positive way.  My peers were all from a very different background.  We got to know each other over many cups of coffee and endless friendly debates, where a search for truth was more important than proving oneself right.  It was a discovery to feel accepted just as I was.

For the first two years I struggled somewhat at the Faculty of Letters where I studied mainly French and a little German.  Much of the course content involved literature and I had little sympathy for some of the tragic characters.  My immature attitudes attracted some mediocre grades. The year in France proved to be a turning point.  While there I avoided English speakers as far as possible and involved myself with the French.  To me they were delightful.  And I spoke nothing but French. On my return to Reading for Year Four everything began to make sense. I enjoyed the literature and the rest of the course.

Then one has to earn a living and I had never really given the matter serious thought.  Dreamy thought, yes, but never any real planning.  They say that if you don’t know where you are going, you end up somewhere else! But that’s no bad thing.

My first full time job was VSO in Laos.  It was an exciting place to be in 1967.  My job was to teach English at Dong Dok teachers’ training college outside Vientiane.  Everyone spoke French, so I was not forced to learn much Lao. People wanted to learn English, so this brought me into contact with French, Germans and Russians. I began to learn some Russian.

We were not allowed to go to Viet Nam, but then I did get to drive someone’s car into Cambodia heading for Angkor Wat.  About 50 km from Saigon my picnic lunch was disturbed by about 30 scruffy men in black armed to the teeth with a variety of weapons.  They were not interested in me – fortunately.  A long time later I realised I was lucky to have been spared by the North Vietnamese army en route to the Tet Offensive.

Back in the UK I spent three years with Rolls Royce in Bristol but as time went by, it became evident that this was not what I wanted. By chance someone gave me some addresses in Rhodesia.  Yes, the rebel state!  Schools there were very interested.  I chose a place at Marondera 50 miles from Harare.  There followed three fascinating years.  Of course there was a demand for French. Travels took me to South Africa, Mozambique and even camping on an island off Mozambique.  I went to Mauritius and Madagascar, where they speak French.  Back in Rhodesia a few words of Shona always helped when meeting the locals.

By 1974 there was a growing need for teachers to be qualified, so I did a PGCE at Oxford. St Bartholomews in Newbury, where I did teaching practice, offered me a job to teach French and German. In 1979 I moved to New Zealand, where I taught French and German. Foreign languages struggle in NZ.  I thought there might be a market for Mandarin Chinese, but this never eventuated.  In 1998 I did a Dip. TESOL to teach English to non-speakers of English.

From 1999 to 2007 I worked in several schools for special needs boys in Hong Kong. They had all been in trouble with the law.  The first thing I learnt at school was Cantonese swear words. Very colourful stuff! From the staff I picked up useful expressions in Cantonese. Later whenever I spoke to these lads in Cantonese, they always listened respectfully. Ah, the magic of language! While in HK there came an opportunity to give language courses in prisons.  We were given some very wise advice before starting our courses.  As always the reality was not what I had expected.  The inmates looked perfectly ordinary to me.  More than anything they seemed to appreciate the visits from outside.

Not wanting the Mandarin to go to waste I found a job at a teachers’ training college in Yangzhou just north of Nanjing.  The Mandarin accent was different.  Again language opens doors and a little goes a long way.  It even saved my life on one occasion, when a group of Chinese suddenly appeared and were closing in on me in Shenzhen.

In 2007 VSA (Volunteer Service Abroad, NZ) asked me if I would like to apply for a post in Quy Nhon.  Not having been to Viet Nam, it was a piece of unfinished business.  A three week intensive course in Vietnamese was a valuable addition. Some words are similar to Chinese, but I found Vietnamese harder than Chinese.

And this journey through the world began with what I learnt at Reading. I learnt about language, cultural awareness and how to learn a language. It is a very exciting world out there and I am grateful I have been able to see so much.

University of Reading turns 90!

Thursday 17 March marked the 90th anniversary of the University receiving its official charter in 1926. We had celebration events on campus throughout the day and held a very special Court in the evening with 90 alumni joining us.

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But the fun wasn’t just for those of us on campus. We were delighted to receive this amazing birthday message from our Chinese alumni. Thank you to all who took part in making this fantastic video. As an alumna myself it made me feel quite emotional to think of all the people around the world who hold such affection for this amazing institution. I am so proud to be part of this University’s history and it is wonderful to hear from others who feel the same.

We would love to hear from more of our alumni to celebrate this special day, and particularly to hear your stories from your time at Reading. You can email us at alumni@reading.ac.uk, tweet us using hashtag #UoR90th or post on our facebook page.