In this post, Ire-Oluwa Adegoke, Masters student in Sustainable Energy Systems, tells us about the benefits of diversifying learning activities through student-led initiatives…
The motivation for pursuing graduate education is diverse and not “one size fits all”. Some students seek a Master’s degree to get into a new career path while others may do it to experience a new country and culture. The diversity of reasons for pursuing graduate education makes it challenging for universities to offer programmes that meet all the needs of the student population. This creates an opportunity for student representatives to “redesign” the programme in a manner that helps everyone achieve a good part of their goals.
In my programme, MSc in Sustainable Energy Systems, the student leadership consists of two class representatives and a diverse ten-member class committee of students from different countries. The class representative works closely with the Programme Director, Engineering School, Student Union and other organisms across the university. The committee works in close liaison with the representatives when creating and implementing the yearly agenda. They also play an important role in getting feedback to the class reps through informal discussions with the members of the class about courses, career interests, and other relevant topics.
Serving as a member of the class committee has been an interesting and enjoyable experience. The opportunity to work with a diverse group of intelligent minds to deliver additional value to the programme and improve the cohort’s experience has been rewarding.
Recently, the class organised a trip to the Whitelee Windfarm – the largest onshore wind farm in the UK. It was the first time most of us saw an operating wind farm. The trip offered many insights into the size of turbines, operating a windfarm, environmental benefits and wind power. This field trip helped us bring together knowledge we acquired in the classroom during the Wind Energy module. Also, we joked about re-evaluating our interests to working in the wind sector due to the ideal weather conditions of these sites.
We started planning this trip early in the first semester. The committee and representatives, with recommendations from the Programme Coordinators, created a list of possible outdoor activities and site visits that could be included in the programme. We asked students to vote on their favourite activities by sending the list to the class via a group chat. The votes were counted and the activities with highest votes were identified as priorities by the committee. This created an inclusive atmosphere as the team managed to get maximum cooperation from the class in all the initiatives planned for the year. Also, the support of the Programme Directors was instrumental in implementing the committee’s plans.
However, this positive experience does not necessarily represent the experience of every postgraduate student in the college or school at large. It is crucial for postgraduate programmes to pay more attention to structured “extra – classroom” activities that enrich the quality of the education offered by the university. This can be achieved by building synergies and partnerships with alumni and organisations in the UK and other parts of the world.
To get a firsthand perspective on student leadership, I had a brief interview with Katherine Frangos about her reflections on serving as the Programme Representative of the Sustainable Energy Systems (SES) course. Speaking about the relationship with course organisers, she reflected:
While developing and hosting SES academic extracurricular events such as inviting industry speakers or the class trip to nearby wind and hydroelectric facilities, we kept our Programme Director updated of our activities and partnered on event logistics while working with different College of Science and Engineering (CSE) support groups. We also hosted a variety of extracurricular social events such as ethnic cooking sessions, regular pick-up football games and a rugby viewing party outside of the university, which gave students the opportunity to get to know each other in different settings.
To improve the quality of the postgraduate student experience in the school, she added that:
While I enjoyed the freedom in planning events, I think a more sustainable model for the SES programme, and other engineering academic departments, should include more university-sponsored events to maintain an enriched academic experience for the students while not placing the entire burden on the programme and student representatives.
In summary, student leaders play an important role in shaping the academic experience of postgraduate students. School management should also create a sustainable platform that guides student leaders in organising projects. Personally, it has been an enjoyable experience working with my classmates to develop and enrich my cohort’s postgraduate experience.