Ambassadors of the Bubble II: Outside the Bubble

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Megan Alexander

See the first post in our ‘Ambassadors of the Bubble’ series here.

The student Ambassadors are well known in town for their work on visiting days, where they show prospective students around the University. Their other work is less well known but at least as important. Behind the scenes, dozens of Ambassadors regularly visit schools around Scotland, especially in underprivileged areas, to encourage students to attend higher education, and to consider St Andrews. Alumni Relations intern Francis Newman spoke to Megan Alexander, Vice-Principal Ambassador for Widening Access and also a student studying Classical Studies and English, about the programme.

“We work with children of a very wide age range,” Megan tells me. “From about the age of 8 up to the end of high school.”

I’m surprised – eight years old perhaps seems too young to be thinking about going to university?

“With the younger children it’s about getting them familiar with exciting concepts and trying to inspire them,” she explains. “For example we once taught kids in a school how to programme some basic robots – which really excited them.”

Meanwhile with older students – about aged 14 or above, who are starting to tackle important exams – the Ambassadors help by tutoring them on projects and by talking to them about their plans, and about access to education.

“Many of these students are foster kids or could end up being the first people from their families to come to university.”

The Ambassadors also work with charities such as the Sutton Trust, which runs summer schools in St Andrews for underprivileged students. The Trust helps them to learn how to apply to university and what is expected in a personal statement, as well as providing subject-specific teaching.

Sometimes the Ambassadors have to tackle stigma against the idea of going to university, or attending St Andrews, especially among some parents. How do they deal with it?

“It helps,” Megan tells me, “that most of the Ambassadors on the widening access programme came from similar backgrounds to the students we’re working with. For example, none of my family went to university. All of the Ambassadors who help with the Sutton Trust programme did the same programme themselves before coming to St Andrews.”

The Ambassadors don’t only work with students thinking of applying – they also work with those from similar backgrounds who are about to arrive.

“We have a mentorship scheme where third or fourth years mentor incoming first years – telling them what they’ll need to bring, or how the module system works.

“That’s what made me want to become an Ambassador – to be a part of such a willing, encouraging and important team.”

Visiting days occur regularly, and other visits can be arranged with the Admissions team. Find out more about St Andrews’ student Ambassador scheme.

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Once a Saint, always a Saint

The University of St Andrews Rugby Football Club was founded in 1858. As such, it is not only one of the oldest sports clubs at the University, but also one of the oldest rugby clubs in the world.

The club is a founder member of the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) and has produced 22 international rugby players who between them have gained 150 international caps. The women’s section of the Rugby Club was founded in 1978 and has consistently been in the top two teams in Scotland over the past decade.

To mark the 160th anniversary of the Club, a very special weekend of reunions and celebrations will take place in St Andrews in July 2018 – further information on this can be found at the bottom of this blog. But first, let’s catch up with some of our alumni and their memories of their days in the Rugby Club…

Women’s Rugby – Annabel Sergeant

Annabel Sergeant – BEng Microelectrics and Photonics, 2010

Finest achievement: Completing my degree with 1st Class honours (Microelectronics and Photonics BEng) 2006-2010
Biggest influence: Family members
Sporting achievements: 17 caps for Scotland, 3 tries (Rugby Union), 4 tournament caps for  Scotland, 9 tries (Rugby 7s)
Top sportsperson: Donna Kennedy – She is the world record caps holder in the women’s game with 115. She made her debut in 1993 against Ireland in what was Scotland’s first women’s international.  Regardless of whether her caps record is ever surpassed, Donna is a true legend of women’s rugby.

International Honours – Chris Rea, Damian Hopley & Tyrone Howe

Chris Rea – MA Modern History, 1966

Chris Rea – 13 caps for Scotland, 1971 British and Irish Lions

I was smitten by St Andrews at an early age. Ever since my father took me to watch the 1st XV play at University Park. This is the place for me, I thought.

“The memories are as vivid today as they were forty plus years ago. For a start, it was the most enjoyable rugby of my life. Training or playing six days a week, the comradeship of like-minded young men, and the after-match mayhem. The rugby itself was joyously uninhibited and of a standard high enough to compete with the best in the country.”

Damian Hopley – MA Theology, 1992

Damian Hopley – 3 caps for England, founder & CEO Rugby Players’ Association (RPA)

StAURFC was full of diverse characters from all walks of like, and long may that continue. I was very fortunate to fulfil my boyhood dream and go onto represent my country at full international level, and the University played its part in both my academic and rugby education.

“Summer was my favourite time of the year to be in St Andrews. The light in the long summer evenings was incredible and whether it was playing cricket at Freuchie or Elie, or golfing on the New or Jubilee long into the evening, it was a very magical part of the world to live.”

Tyrone Howe – MA German and International Relations, 1994

Tyrone Howe – 14 caps for Ireland, 2001 British and Irish Lions

As an 18 year old, who initially felt a long way from home, the University Rugby Club provided me with an immediate circle of like-minded individuals and the framework within which my life and education at St Andrews would be nurtured.

 “I still love that bold symbol – the Cross of St Andrews. You knew exactly who you were representing. That was crucial for me and remained so throughout the rest of my rugby career, whether it was the crown of Oxford, the red hand of Ulster or the shamrock of Ireland.

And so the legacy goes on …

Chris Reekie, Honorary President of StAURFC, talks about being “part of a very special group” and looks to the future of rugby at St Andrews.

“Milestones are moments that celebrate the intervening years, the effort and commitment from those have who worn the Saints shirt. Every single student who has been a member of the Rugby Club has embraced the ethos of running rugby, the fun and enjoyment, which comes from being part of a very special group. Not only when at St Andrews, but years after, and all around the world. Once a Saint, always a Saint.

“I’m proud to have coached at St Andrews, and to have been involved with the 150th Anniversary, refereeing the former students against the 1st XV, before stepping out onto the pitch for Scottish Legends against South African Legends.

“Now, as Honorary President, it gives me great pleasure to catch up with many of the players who have graced University Park, to see how much affection they have for the club and the town. Future generations will follow in the footsteps of those who precede them. I have no doubt they will share stories and memories of what it is to be a Saint, and so the legacy goes on.”

160th Anniversary Dinner

To celebrate and recognise this tradition of success and achievement, the University Rugby Club warmly invites students, alumni, supporters, friends and family to attend the 160th Anniversary Dinner on Saturday 2 June 2018 at the Fairmont Hotel, St Andrews. The evening will be hosted in partnership with the Bill McLaren Foundation, which aims to improve lives through rugby and inspire youngsters to achieve their personal best. We are delighted to bring you an evening of entertainment with former All Black captain and rugby legend Sean Fitzpatrick, and with ex-Scotland captain Rory Lawson overseeing events as master of ceremonies.

Tickets are available to buy now from the University’s Online Shop. Please note that sales will close on Friday 4th May 2018.

Accommodation: the Fairmont Hotel is kindly offering reduced rates on accommodation for guests coming to the 160th Anniversary Dinner. Reservations can be made directly with the hotel on +44 (0)1334 837046 before 1 May 2018.

Golf tournament: the celebrations will also feature a golf tournament on the Kittocks Course (Fairmont Hotel) on the afternoon of Friday 1 June, priced £60 per person. Please email 1858club@st-andrews.ac.uk for more information.

Sponsorship: if you are interested in sponsoring the event, please contact Fergus Knight for further information.

 

From an act of craziness to An Act of Defiance

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Hugh Rogers (BSc 1998) left St Andrews with a degree in Psychology and the “ability to think independently” – something that helped when, some years later, he embarked on a project that his “student self would have thought mad”. With the support of his wife his “crazy idea” has become an award-winning film. He tells his story here.

Some time after graduating, I was fortunate to become friends with Joel Joffe – otherwise known as Lord Joffe – a cross-party peer who was elevated to the House of Lords in 2000 after a distinguished career in law and finance, and one of the most humble people I have ever met. It was about a year into our friendship that I found out he had been part of the legal team that defended Nelson Mandela and the heads of the African National Congress (ANC) in the 1963–1964 Rivonia Treason trial.

In 1963 the ANC party were outlawed and their political campaigns had been quashed by the Nationalist government. When the ANC high command met in a farm house in Rivonia that year to discuss the sabotage they were planning to unleash on South Africa, they were caught red-handed with the documentary evidence detailing their plans. Those arrested – including Nelson Mandela who was already serving a five year jail sentence at the time – faced an almost certain death penalty: this was the chance for the Nationalist government to finish off the ANC and their resistance to apartheid rule once and for all.

Joel was already in the process of emigrating with his family to Australia when he was approached by the wives of the arrested men and asked to become the instructing solicitor on the case. He persuaded Bram Fisher, Head of the Bar Council in South Africa and a highly respected Afrikaner, to lead the defence team in front of a Judge who was a known proponent of white superiority in South Africa.

Bram Fisher was, however, leading a double life. He was a committed communist who abhorred the apartheid policies of his people and it was only by chance that he himself was not arrested at Rivonia on the day of the raid.

In 2007 Joel gave me a book called The State vs Nelson Mandela – his own recount of the trial and, in particular, of the brilliance of Bram Fisher.

The story of how the legal team picked holes in the prosecution case, how they brought the attention of the world to the fate of the accused and how they risked their own and their families’ lives to provide a fair legal defence in 1960s apartheid South Africa simply wouldn’t leave me alone. So I boldly announced to my wife that I was going to use “our” money to buy the film rights to the book and make a film of it. Why she didn’t file for divorce immediately is beyond me.

There followed years of rewrites, rejections and expenditure. But then – very slowly – other people (and in particular people who had experience of getting a film made) became involved. In 2016 we were awarded a small grant from the Dutch Film Council, and filming took place in September that year in the Palace of Justice in Pretoria, where the actual trial took place in 1963.

Joel Joffe got to see an “almost” finished version of the film shortly before he passed away in 2017.

An Act of Defiance was released as an English/Dutch language film in Holland in March 2017, and has since shown in festivals around the world. It has won seven awards to date, and is currently showing in festivals across the United States. After being shown to sold-out audiences in London, we are working on a UK release.

It’s been an amazing journey so far, with some high highs, and some low lows, but I couldn’t have done it without the love and support of my wife Kerryn, who allowed me to embark on such a crazy idea in the first place.

So who knows where a degree from St Andrews (and the ability to think independently) will take you? We wish Hugh all the best in his endeavours!

Find out more about the film at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6002522/

Ambassadors of the Bubble

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The friendly and welcoming faces of student ambassadors, wearing their distinctive scarlet undergraduate gowns, are what greet the thousands of prospective students and their families when they visit St Andrews. In the first of a series of posts about what it’s like to be on the team, our intern Francis Newman sat down with the Principal Ambassador, Charlie Maguire, to talk about his role and experiences.

“There’s no such thing as a typical day,” Charlie muses when I ask what his job looks like.

And he’s right – the work of St Andrews’ cohort of student ambassadors is incredibly varied. Most visibly, 350 of the 409 registered ambassadors – all of whom are current students – work in St Andrews on visiting days, where they give tours, answer questions and show people around halls of residence. However, 250 are also registered to work on widening access projects. These projects work with students across Scotland to ensure that no student with the potential to do well is disadvantaged by socioeconomic circumstances.

It helps, Charlie tells me, that the ambassadors themselves come from a wide range of backgrounds. The group are remarkable in their diversity – they speak 33 languages and a third of them are from outside the UK. Out of those from within this country, many have themselves benefited from widening access programmes and can therefore share their own experiences with the students they are working with.

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What’s the most common question they get asked on a visiting day?

“Why did you choose St Andrews?”

Charlie’s own answer will chime with many who spent their student days in the town. “The community,” he says. “A university of the right size; a chance to get involved in lots of things. Also, the degree structure – not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, the flexibility was a big help for me.”

Other questions that often crop up – is there anywhere to go out in the evenings? What are the connections to other places like? What’s the cost of living?

Occasionally there are more specific and unexpected questions too.

“Do you have a synchronised swimming team?”

No, Charlie responded when one prospective student asked him that – but if the club or society doesn’t exist you can create it yourself!

Are there any frustrations involved in the job?

“I wish more people asked more questions,” he says. Sometimes he gets the impression that students avoid asking certain questions – for example, about the nightlife in the town – because they are in front of their parents, and he wishes they threw off their inhibitions. Questions about the difficulties in living in a small town would also be welcome, he says – the absence of anonymity in St Andrews can be tricky to negotiate.

Interestingly he also tells of alumni who come back with their children to encourage them to come to St Andrews. “They can embellish your stories with their own experiences,” he says, “and highlight the things they enjoyed and the places they liked to go to when they were students.” The alumni are often impressed by the additional buildings and refurbished facilities that now exist: the regeneration of St Salvator’s Quad, for example, often impresses returning visitors.

Sometimes alumni come to try and persuade their younger siblings to follow in their footsteps, in which case they often share Raisin Weekend stories or talk about their experiences of St Andrews’ other unique traditions, and ask to look round their old halls.

“I love my job,” Charlie says when I ask how rewarding he finds his experiences. “Being able to give back to the St Andrews community in this way is very special, and I’m incredibly lucky to have this opportunity to do so.”

It’s clear that his enthusiasm for the town and the University is matched only by his passion for communicating that to future generations of St Andrews students.

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Visiting days occur regularly, and other visits can be arranged with the Admissions team. Find out more about St Andrews’ student ambassador scheme.

The summer internship programme: you never know where it can take you …

Rob Morgan (MA 2016) describes how he applied for a summer internship with the University while he was an undergraduate here and why he would urge other students to do the same.

“While I was a student at St Andrews, many of my peers applied to the summer internship programme and gained all sorts of wonderful work experience, ranging from banking in London to politics in Washington, D.C. to tagging sharks and diving with turtles in the Caribbean or Asia.

“For me, however, the University’s Lean Team was the only place to be. When I worked there in the summer of 2015, it was part of the larger Change Unit – the group devoted to improving efficiency and managing the transformation of the University, both digitally and physically.

“During my six weeks with the Lean Team I felt like my contribution was both valued and valuable. I rewrote the materials used for Lean Facilitator training, devised a method of measuring and evaluating the benefits of Lean projects and attended a five-day training session for executives from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. As a result of working on these projects, I was able to apply the knowledge and skills I had gained to both my academic and domestic life.

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Facilitating the Paper Plane Game with staff from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana

“As it turned out, Lean was to be more than just an internship for me. Part of the way through my fourth year there was a reshuffle and St Andrews Lean Consulting (or SALC as we call it) was created. After I graduated, I spent an entire year with SALC talking to, learning from and educating people about Lean and its benefits, and not just in a higher education setting. We spent a lot of time with charities and private sector companies and each time the results were the same: processes were smoother, waste was removed and colleagues felt more engaged and more connected with each other. My own organisation and planning became much more effective.

“The only potential downside of being so involved in Lean was that it didn’t necessarily stop at the office – the principles tended to take over my domestic life, too, which my girlfriend and flatmate didn’t always appreciate!

“I would encourage other students to apply for the summer internship programme with the University – you never know where it can take you. I’ve now left St Andrews, but the knowledge that I gained – first through my internship and then subsequently through SALC  – will be with me forever in whatever I do.”

Through his internship, Rob gained skills that he now applies throughout his life, and he retains fond memories of the University and his time working with SALC. He is now studying for a master’s degree at the University of Liverpool.

Watch Rob and his team co-facilitating a five-day Rapid Improvement event with Thornton’s Law.

Triathlons – why would you bother at my age?

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Half-way round the recent Age-Group World Championships in Rotterdam

Patrick Foster (BSc 1974) spent his spare time during his degree running around the sports field track and along St Andrews’ sandy beaches, but now, more than 40 years on, he finds himself confronted by a whole different challenge as he takes on triathlons across the world. Here, Patrick tells Incomparabubble his story of why he still bothers to push himself, especially in the latter stages of events when the aches and pains kick in!

Seventeen years ago, I’d been a runner, but an injury to my Achilles tendon meant that I had to have a rethink. Triathlons were in the news then as an up and coming sport, so I thought I would try that. Swimming and biking replaced running until my injury healed. Six months were then spent re-learning swimming technique and membership of the Serpentine Running Club provided support and advice as well as the opportunity for early morning, chilly dips (not always welcome).

Once I got started, my bucket list contained some iconic events/rides with qualifying for the Age-Group Triathlon World Championships being the final and most difficult challenge.  One of the highlights was cycling up Mont Ventoux three times in a day!

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500 m to go and the strain is obvious

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Another highlight was swimming across the Dardanelles from Europe to Asia and twice completing the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon.  One of the more exacting elements was swimming from Alcatraz Island to the mainland: no prisoner ever escaped from the jail, as the water is far too cold.

Over the years I’ve raised money for a number of charities. The more extreme (for that read painful) the challenge the more hands reach into pockets to support.   The aim has been to raise about £10,000 each year, much of it from matched funding programmes.

So why continue? A sense of wellbeing, feeling fit and healthy, enjoying the competition and meeting loads of new people all contribute. But I think the photo below says it all. This was taken after three of us had just competed in the Age-Group Aquathon Championship in Penticton, Canada, this August.

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This year’s racing is over and training is on the back burner for now. Next year the World Championships are in Denmark … did I mention the excuse of travelling the world as a bonus?

Since his graduation from St Andrews – and away from running, cycling and swimming – Patrick has forged a successful career in the world of environmental sciences, which has allowed him to continue to stay in touch with the University and his first love, geology. Patrick has been a member of the Advisory Board within the School of Earth and Environmental Science at the University, and a regular supporter of the School’s field trips, further information on which can be found at https://earthsci.st-andrews.ac.uk/study/bsc-geology-2/. We wish Patrick all the very best in his upcoming challenge!

How scholarships transform lives II – Sherlock Cruz

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Sherlock Cruz was the first recipient of the London Scholarship, launched in 2013 with the aim of encouraging young students from the Greater London area to study at St Andrews by supporting them with accommodation and living costs.

Sherlock graduated this June with a BSc in Computer Science (2:1) and is now working on the graduate scheme at Citi. He explains the difference that the scholarship made to his time here:

“‘Scotland? You’re going all the way there?’ was the reaction I grew to expect when I told friends and family that I had decided to take up a place to study Economics at St Andrews.

“Sure, why would a London boy not stick around and go to one of the many good universities in the city but instead decide to subject himself to an extra year of uni and undoubtedly worse weather?

“To be honest, I was a bit afraid of how I would feel living in a small town tucked away on the east coast of Scotland, but my initial impressions from the Open Day held true and those fears very quickly disappeared once I arrived. St Andrews provides a unique combination of high quality teaching with a wide range of opportunities and activities – so really that extra year was nothing but a blessing.

“Perhaps one of the best things about St Andrews was the flexible modular system. I had applied to do Economics – a subject I had studied at A level and enjoyed – but really as an 18 year old boy, I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. I was able to take up modules in Computer Science – a subject I had absolutely no idea what to expect as I never had to opportunity to study it previously – but having had a strong interest in technology I thought it was worth a shot. This turned out to be one of the best choices I ever made, as I truly loved studying the subject, and had no hesitation about switching to it at the end of second year.

“I’ve just started on the Technology Analyst graduate scheme at Citi – an amazing job I absolutely never would have thought of applying to before. I am forever grateful to have been given these opportunities and be able to have experienced everything St Andrews had to offer without having to worry about the financial implications of doing so.

Although I’ve now left St Andrews, I hope to help in any way that I can to ensure that more students like me can have the same opportunities that I did in the future.”

The London Alumni Carol Service, from where the first London Scholarship originated,  will this year be held on Wednesday 13 December.