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Mercedes Chambers

Graduate Intern
BA (Hons) Criminology and Psychology

The University's Student Academic Partnerships scheme has been a standard-bearer for the University since it was introduced in 2009, winning a Time Higher Education award in the 'Outstanding Support for Students' category and earning plaudits for promoting strong partnership work between students and staff. In this interview, we speak to Mercedes Chambers, a former Student Academic Partner and now Graduate Intern supporting the scheme about how it’s helping staff and students across the University.

Introduce yourself?

"Hi, my name is Mercedes Chambers. I’m a graduate of the University, having previously studied BA (Hons) Criminology and Psychology from 2008 to 2011.

During my third year I decided take part in the Student Academic Partner (SAP) scheme. Working as a SAP was interesting as the management of the project was handed over entirely to students.

Our project focused on ways to improve course design, assessment and feedback, and ways to help improve learning for disabled students. Our work developed animated footage identifying pertinent issues that affect disabled students. The project was a great success as the animated footage has been embedded within staff development courses, to influence new course designers.

It was amazing to see the value student participation made. Being proactive and engaged at university proved positive and I wanted to continuing being a part of the engagement work. SAPs are good fun, I gained professional work experience, confidence, I got paid well and realised I had the duality of being able to study and work at the same time.

My positive SAP experience inspired me to apply for the graduate internship offered by the Centre for Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) the following year, I was successful in my application and continued to work whilst completing the Graduate Diploma in Psychology course (2011-12)."

What are you doing at the University at the moment?

"I work as a graduate intern to support the student engagement team in CELT. I have been involved with various student engagement initiatives over the past year but I now work directly on the SAP scheme to offer support and guidance to SAPs. I also do administrative work, research based projects and been given the opportunity to write case studies for external bodies to showcase the student engagement work I have been involved in."

What's your favourite part of working for the University?

"Working for the University is inspirational. I work with people who are passionate about what they do, enthusiastic to enhance existing practices and develop new initiatives to improve students learning experience. It is fantastic to see a department care about the progression of its students by offering various student engagement opportunities. To know that I am part of this makes me proud!

The team's work ethic is contagious; it encourages me to be my best at everything I do from writing an email through to interviewing Directorates of Birmingham City University to gain their perspectives on different subject matters.

The graduate internship is versatile, quick paced, challenging and pushes me beyond all expectations but that is what I respect about working for Birmingham City University."

Tell us about the Student Academic Partners scheme.

"The Scheme creates unique student-staff partnerships across the University. Students are encouraged to be student collaborators, to share their ideas with staff to enhance the learning experience and make positive changes on their course.

The Scheme provides a useful framework for both student and staffs ideas to be transformed into real projects. The Scheme guarantees favourable outcomes for those involved such as having fun, seeing their idea come to life, sharing knowledge and experience with their partner, personal development, getting paid but more importantly enhancing learning and teaching university-wide.

Over the past four years SAPs has facilitated a range of innovative projects such as creating a student advisory board for faculty and student societies, development of course guides and tools and much more."

How does it work?

"Students are employed as equal decision makers alongside staff to instil a sense of ownership. As many of the projects are initiated and led by students they are seen as the driving force, demonstrating the Universities trust in employing its own students. It is good because it is part of wider culture change; students actively seek change rather than be told what to do by staff.

The hours are flexible as students manage their own projects and decide when to work during the academic year. Once students have completed the projects SAPs are encouraged to disseminate their work across the University to share the good practice."

Why should staff make a submission for the scheme?

"The Scheme benefits staff personally, professionally and academically. Like students, staff will feel a great sense of satisfaction accomplishing research projects alongside their work commitments; see their idea adopted by the University, impacting on the learning experience and being able to inspire others to support students in better, more innovative ways.

The Scheme enables staff to work with students on a personal level beyond teaching. It is an enjoyable experience staff should get involved in. It is a mutually beneficial scheme, staff are able to share their expertise and support students but they too can learn from student’s enthusiasm, knowledge and perspective on how things could be done to improve existing practices."

Why do you think this sort of partnership work with students is important?

"Partnerships between students and staff can lead to beneficial consequences across the whole University. It can have a positive effect on students accessing greater learning opportunities, improve communication between staff and students, encourages students to be engaged on and off campus and offers staff access to a great resource, the student voice. Partnership work will help to create student friendly services from the initial development stages, making students more responsible for their learning experience."

The Student Academic Partners scheme has already won a Times Higher Education award, why do you think the scheme has been so successful?

"SAPs support students in the best way!

The University takes pride in ensuring that people work collaboratively with each other, students and external bodies to create successful working relationships. SAPs support its students 100% and offer the capacity for students and staff to learn and grow together - this in turn encourages students and staff to feel a sense of belonging within the University. The Scheme is great because both students and staff are able to value their contribution and celebrate the success of their work when they see the end product.

SAPs are a nationally recognised scheme. It is positive for Birmingham City University to see other Universities around the country using SAPs as a positive case study and adopt similar methods to integrate students into their learning communities."

What do you think is the best thing to come out of the project?

"I believe SAPs is one of the main vehicles to improve student-staff relationships. Engaged students at Birmingham City University see their lecturers as more than just being lecturers but real people, and staff appreciate what students can offer."