Presenting at the NEON Summer Symposium: Ambassadors of Your Own Experience Research

Student Ambassadors, Cerian Dantzie, Glory Oluwaseun, and Shanjit Sadhra recently had the opportunity to share their research into the value of centering Ambassador experiences in outreach work at a national conference. Here, with Shauna-Aine O'Brien, Student Support and Development Officer, they share their experience

Since December 2020, the PDO has been working with a team of Student Ambassadors on an outreach project for UKAT Sixth Form students, to explore the experiences of Black students at university. The Mentoring and University Insights Project has been entirely developed and facilitated by a group of ambassadors, centred on their lived experiences. These sessions have focused on: transitioning to university (highlighting support available at university); sense of belonging (highlighting diverse societies); academic and social capital (highlighting opportunities such as research roles or ambassador opportunities available to students); and identity (including your culture and heritage in your studies). We are coming to the end of the Mentoring and University Insights project, but wanted to do some research on outreach work that centres around ambassador experiences, looking at the following questions:

  • Is this type of ambassador work different to the usual one-off opportunities to support an outreach session?
  • Do ambassadors who lead on this project feel a greater sense of belonging to the PDO?
  • Do they value co-development of outreach projects?
  • Is there value in targeting specific demographics in outreach work, especially for ambassadors?
  • Should we be doing more work with ambassadors where their lived experiences are centred?

The Ambassadors of Your Own Experience research was led by three of the project’s ambassadors – Cerian Dantzie, Glory Oluwaseun, and Shanjit Sadhra. Together, they developed a presentation, which we presented at the NEON Summer Symposium (the National Educational Opportunities Network’s annual conference). We had a lot of competition, with seven breakout rooms to choose from, but thirty-eight people came to watch our presentation. Congratulations to all our ambassadors who have been involved in the Mentoring and University Insights Project (Emmanelle Ogunlola, JD Esenwa, Morenikeji Asimashaun, Shania Ogunlola, Shania Foster, and Shaianne Murray) and to our research team.

Feedback from colleagues at the conference included:

  • “Great work. Urgently needed and a brilliant approach.” Luke Parmenter, Widening Access and Outreach Manager, Nottingham Trent University
  • “Brilliant project and thank you for sharing!” Zarielle Prosser, Higher Education Champion, University of Suffolk
  • “Really great to see this project properly researched the outcomes – thanks so much all!” Kate Oliver, Outreach Development Manager, Royal Veterinary College
  • “Thank you all, fantastic presentation and work!” Sian Earl, Impact and Evalution Officer, University of East London

Here are some reflections from Glory and Cerian about their participation in the conference:

“Working on this project is an experience that I will never forget and that I am grateful for. It gave me a hands-on insight into the professional world of research and the ways that it is shared. I am passionate about research, and a strong believer that research should impact real lives and so the feedback we received was so fulfilling. I am proud of the research process and the analysis we worked on together, but most importantly being able to present our research and know it had an impact.

Initially I thought I would enjoy the research more and I was really nervous about presenting, just because it was a new experience and I really wanted people to hear what we were saying, and I am glad to say that they did. People messaged us about how our research was needed and how it inspired them to do more about including ambassador experience as well as increasing levels of EDI without it being performative. I hope that in the future I can see ambassador experience at the centre of outreach. I would like to end with my last words at the conference, ‘Performative Activism helps no one, students can see right through it. Instead, be intentional with the things you create. Establish spaces where your marginalised students are free to speak honestly. Don’t minimise their experience because by sharing they have the power to create real influential change.’ To whoever’s reading this you have the power to create real change with your experience. We did, and so can you.” Glory Oluwaseun

“Working on this project since December 2020 has been one of the highlights of my year. Getting involved in the development of Outreach projects not just with staff, but with other student ambassadors and those the project is meant to target (the students) has been a phenomenal experience. The project appears to have been very successful so far and presenting the results of our research into the ambassador experience of working on this project at the NEON Summer Symposium was both a highlight of this experience as well as a fantastic learning opportunity. Furthermore, it seems like the impact of our presentation has inspired other organisations and universities to look at what they can do differently to better accommodate other minorities. Leading from this, I feel as if we are creating meaningful change and discourse (even if it is small so far) and I hope that it continues and finds even more success.” Cerian Dantzie

The work continues, and the team are going to work on a paper of their research next.