As part of the AUA’s Student Experience and Engagement network, we’re conducting interviews with those who work in the field. A wide variety of roles and teams support the improvement of student experience and engagement within universities. Our interview series helps to shine a light on those who are working in these roles, so that others can learn more about the many different ways that we’re approaching this area of work across the sector.
In this edition, we hear from Jonathan Dempsey, Assistant Registrar (Student Records) at the New College of the Humanities (NCH).
What does your team do and where does it ‘sit’ within the New College of Humanities (NCH)?
We are the student registry covering everything from assessments to extenuating circumstances, student data to student finance.
Why did you want to work for NCH?
The opportunity to be involved in a multitude of projects. NCH is a relatively small institution which means we do not have depth in teams. Whilst this can bring some challenges such as being involved in many projects in and out of your comfort/knowledge zone at any one time it ultimately brings the benefit that you are a part of the full lifecycle of the students and the college. Working in larger institutions you are often pigeon-holed to your specific area whereas at NCH you often work across specialisms, breaking down the silos many of us have no doubt been a part of and gaining new skills along the way. A smaller place of work allows you to work more, as coined by Celia Whitchurch, in the ‘third space’ and cross boundaries.
What’s the things you’ve achieved since starting at NCH that you’re most proud of?
I am relatively new to my role having started in March 2021 so still finding my feet, however I can say that I am proud of the teamwork and collaboration across the institution. There are no barriers between teams, in fact they don’t feel separate from my team in practice only by name.
What’s one project you’re currently working on / about to start that you’re excited about?
One of my student focused projects I am currently working on is Freshers/Induction. I have often only been involved in the periphery of this event elsewhere helping out with enrolment etc… but in this project I am leading, along with other colleagues, the event. It presents a great chance to set the tone for incoming students, especially as we move to a new campus. So I am really excited about playing a key role in our students’ first day and week at NCH as well as gaining new skills.
In what ways are your students different from the ‘typical perception of University students’?
I’ve yet to meet a truly typical student wherever I have worked. On the surface students may seem similar but it doesn’t take long to get beneath that and see the individual in front of you. Our students are as great and different as everywhere else and what makes them a uniquely NCH student is what makes them uniquely themselves.
What partnerships across your University are most important for the success of your team’s work?
As mentioned, NCH is not the largest of institutions, so every partnership is important here as you need to rely on each other more so than in other places I’ve worked. This greater reliance on each other means you can access a variety of skills and knowledge from colleagues much more readily than I have found in larger places of work as the dreaded silos rarely exist. This is in part due to the distance between us, professionally, meaning hierarchy is not an issue I have run in to as a barrier.
An institution without silos sounds like a dream! Now, onto a couple of questions about yourself… who is the person who has influenced you the most?
My former manager at Regent’s University London, Frank Siegmund. Frank was the Head of Student Services and he gave me the space in my early career to explore my passions, lead on ideas and more generally how to take work and life in your stride AKA not too seriously. There is always space to have fun and enjoy yourself when you work and Frank often instilled that in our team.
And finally… what is a piece of wisdom you would pass on?
If you have the space, mentally, physically, or temporally, then don’t say no to anything. I have always sought to take on new challenges and projects throughout my career especially those ‘outside’ of my professional area, for which I no longer know how to define. I am not an administrator, developer, officer or whatever other title I have had. I am a higher education professional that is not bounded by a specific role or title only by the challenges I take on. So if you don’t yet know what you’re doing, don’t worry, you eventually will.
If you work in a role related to student experience and engagement and would like to share your story, then please get in touch with the Student Experience and Engagement Network Coordinator – David Gilani