In full swing

Term’s in full-swing; the buildings are full of life and the corridors, foyers and cafés are busy. I was delighted to have been asked to do some teaching last week, and taught an undergraduate education studies group – which, amidst all the talk of strategies and budgets, stakeholders and planning, policy and long-term thinking which fills most working days, was a good reminder that the business of the University depends above all else on the provision we offer for students.

There were a series of other highlights last week too, each of them throwing a different light on the University’s role and engagement in the city and the world. On Thursday evening, we held the formal opening of the Hertha Ayrton STEM Centre – the culmination of our £11m overhaul of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics facilities on City Campus, which gives the University a smart new front door facing Sheffield station. Hertha Ayrton (1854 – 1923) was a pioneering British engineer, mathematician, physicist and inventor. She was a fiery intellectual and feminist activist, excelling in the field of science and engineering, who registered 26 patents over her career. She was the first female member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers. During the First World War, Ayrton put her knowledge of oscillations in water to the movement of air to good use; her Flapper Fan invention was widely used to clear trenches of poison gas. Following discussions with her family, we are delighted to be able to name our new STEM Centre after her, and the opening ceremony was a celebration of women in science and technology. Carolyn Griffiths, President of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, and two of our outstanding female engineering students used their speeches to get the Centre – which looks stunning – off to a fine start. Hallam’s in-house catering service had risen to the challenge with some fabulous science-themed canapés: the watercress soup in test tubes was a real triumph.

Earlier in the week, I went over to Sheffield Town Hall for the Sheffield Volunteering Fair, and met up with some of our 800 student volunteers – talking to some who worked regularly in schools, some working with food banks, and other community settings. The Volunteering and Community Engagement team in the Students’ Union has been overhauled recently, led by Holly Shreeves, the Volunteering and Community Engagement Manager. There’s already a strong partnership with Voluntary Action Sheffield to provide opportunities for students, streamline the approach for organisations in the city and collaborate on events and campaigns. There’s support for the essentials of successful volunteering, including for expenses, training, and DBS clearance, a named contact at SHSU, opportunities that are engaging and a Reward and Recognition scheme. Eight hundred is a lot of volunteers, but, as Holly said to me, it’s nowhere near enough – imagine the impact on our city if that number were increased ten-fold. Work is now underway to link the SU volunteering programme constructively to other streams of work in the University, but as with all these things, the starting point is to raise profile to increase awareness.

On Wednesday, the regular University Leadership Forum met; it draws together senior leaders from departments, faculties and directorates across the University. This one focused on the Shaping Futures strand of our strategy, with presentations from across the University on enhancing the curriculum and developing student experience. Introduced by Christina Hughes, a series of presentations set out the energy and imagination being invested in linking departmental and directorate planning to the goals of the University strategy. This is being achieved through an enthused and engaged curriculum, pedagogies which link learning to the world beyond, and joined-up support for students – including Nuala Devlin’s compelling account of how the Hallam library team has worked such that the library service is now rated as one of the top six university libraries in the country.

As we move from strategy planning to strategy implementation, it was energising to be able to share the range of work across the University – a university, like the term, in full-swing. There was one more event to mention, just off campus and an unashamed plug: I went across to the Millennium Gallery for the opening of their Ravilious & Co exhibition on Wednesday evening – it’s a fabulous exhibition, drawing together the art, prints and design of an influential group of inter-war artists. Don’t miss it – it is a gorgeous show, free, and just a few minutes’ walk from City Campus.

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