School Administration Manager Helena Torres has received a special 50th anniversary award to mark her commitment and contribution to learning and development at Kent.
She tells Wendy Raeside more about her early career in France, her role at Kent and why lifetime learning is so important to her.
What did you do before entering the world of HE?
I studied Geography with a Year Abroad at Swansea University and worked as an au pair in Paris during the summer holidays.
After graduating, I returned to France, to take a TEFL course and teach business English in Paris and Montpelier. My interest in learning and development really stems from that experience – I like learning myself and get a lot of satisfaction from helping others to learn.
On returning to the UK in 2000, I taught English to Japanese students on a summer school at Nottingham University. I really liked the university environment so applied for a job there as an Administrative Assistant.
For family reasons, we relocated to Kent in 2001 and I joined Kent Business School as the Programmes Administrator, moving to the School of English in 2003 as Academic Administrator (now School Administration Manager).
Can you tell us more about your role at the University?
I work alongside the Head of School to manage all areas of the School’s business; for example, managing the budget, HR, strategic planning, learning and teaching, research, student experience and recruitment and marketing.
I love the variety of the role. I also enjoy being in an academic environment – you feel that you are contributing to students’ futures and helping them have a fantastic experience while they’re here. It’s great to see academic colleagues being so passionate about their research and teaching and to be part of a successful School.
As I’m bilingual – fluent in French as well as speaking a bit of Spanish – I have also been able to get involved with our Paris centre, for example, helping with school liaison.
When did you return to learning after your degree and what difference has it made?
I started my MBA in 2005 studying part-time with the Open University. The organisation was fantastic and enabled me to really fit my studies around work. I was part-funded by the University and given some time off to study. I took a long break when my daughter was born – she’s now seven – and graduated in July 2013.
The MBA has really helped me in my work at Kent. In the final year, we had to complete a project that would make a difference to both you and your organisation. I had enjoyed the pilot of LPPSM (Leadership Programme for Professional Services Managers) in 2010, but felt there was a gap for managers at grades 6 and 7.
So, as part of my OU project, I worked in partnership with Learning and Development to start the Developing Management Skills (DMS) programme and, in January 2013, 13 people were selected for the pilot course. It went really well and is now in its sixth cohort.
I still act as a facilitator for the programme and am part of the design team. As I was sponsored by the University in my own studies, it’s great to feel that I am giving something back.
Why do you think you were awarded the 50th anniversary prize for ‘sustained contribution to Learning & Development’?
It was a complete surprise! I was asked to attend the Learning and Development Awards ceremony (on 26 February 2015) to present prizes to cohorts 2 and 3 from the DMS course. I was very flattered and honoured to receive the award.
I strongly believe that working in such a strong learning environment, it’s essential to ensure that that you’re on top of your own professional development. I think it also adds to your credibility with academic colleagues and helps give an understanding of what it’s like to be a student here.
The work I have done with Learning and Development and also the AUA (Association of University Administrators) has meant that I have been able to share these beliefs and contribute to the professional development of members of staff within the University and in the HE sector as a whole.
How do you spend your time outside work?
I enjoy spending time with my family and visiting my husband’s French family and friends in Marseille.
I’m a member of Faversham Flower Club which is quite a recent hobby and completely different to other aspects of my life. Flower arranging brings together gardening – which I love – and a tiny bit of creativity. I find it’s a very focused way to spend my time.
What was your earliest ambition, career-wise?
I really wanted to be a news reader or a weather presenter. But I didn’t enjoy meteorology while studying Geography and then my career took a different pathway.
What was your first and/or worst job?
My first and worst job was working on Saturdays as a sales assistant for a department store – it was so boring and the day seemed to last forever. Otherwise, I have enjoyed all my jobs.
What do you think is your greatest achievement?
Definitely my MBA – I think that managing to work part-time, study part-time and having a family has been a real achievement. There were stages when I thought I was not going to manage but I received lots of encouragement along the way, especially from my heads of School and line manager.
Based on your experiences, what advice would you give others?
Seize every opportunity that is presented to you at the University. It’s a fantastic organisation to work for – take the time to look outside your own role and see what’s going on.
What’s next for you in terms of learning and development?
I have signed up for a couple of short in-house training courses but I haven’t got anything else planned at the moment in terms of further qualifications. After studying part-time for so long, I really value my free time!