PhD student Alex Davis smiling

Kent Stars: Award-winning Ambassador

This month’s Kent Star is PhD student Alex Davis, who recently won the NEON Student of the Year Award! NEON is a professional organisation supporting those involved in widening access to higher education. Hear more from Alex:

“My name is Alex. I am a mature student, and I arrived at Kent in 2016 to study BA Classical Studies, having taken an Access to HE Diploma at Canterbury College. I love my subject, and remained at Kent to study MA Ancient History, progressing to a PhD in 2022 (part-time). I am working on the exile poetry by the Roman poet Ovid, in the original Latin. I am President of the Mature Student Society, PGR Student Rep for Classics, and I live in Canterbury with my awesome partner Owen. I run regularly, and am training for a half marathon in August.”

Tell us about your outreach work and winning the NEON Student of the Year Award. 

“Wow! What an amazing honour this is. I am so happy and proud…and still a little dazed! The award ceremony was at the House of Commons, and my partner Owen, and two members of Outreach Widening Participation staff – Vanessa and Ruth – accompanied me. It means so much that the people I work with think so highly of me that they nominated me for this award.

PhD student Alex with Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Matt Western and the Chair of NEON, Les Ebdon.

I didn’t go to University after A-Levels. I knew nothing about it, and there were no ambassadors back in 1993!  Later, I regretted that decision, so when I had a chance to change career I decided that it was my time.

Coming back to full-time study as a mature student was exciting, and terrifying. I thought I would be the oldest person here, and that I would not make any friends. I was wrong.

Kent Outreach Staff and Ambassadors helped immensely, running talks and workshops at the college, and organising visit days to campus. Their hard work and kindness ensured that I felt at home here from day 1.

That is why I applied to be an ambassador: because Kent ambassadors helped me.

From left to right – Ruth Westbury (Development Officer – FE), Alex Davis with her award, Dr Owen Lyne (Senior Lecturer – Statistics), Vanessa Nedderman (Outreach Manager).

I’ve done my best to inspire the people I’ve worked with, to repay that. I’ve worked with hundreds of students on a wide variety of events, and met amazing people. Many of the best friends I have are via Outreach – some of whom I first met whilst at their college or school. They are now Kent students and awesome ambassadors alongside me.

Outreach makes a huge difference to those we work with, every day.  Widening Participation is so important, enabling students who may not think university is for them, or who feel they have a barrier between them and their dreams, to break down those barriers and do what makes them happy and fulfilled.

I love my job. I know it changes lives. It has certainly changed mine.”

What advice would you give to other students?

“University is not just about our studies. It also provides us a massive variety of other opportunities. Please do engage with as many of those as you can. You never know which one will inspire you, give you a new interest, suggest a career path, or change your world.

I did not know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Now I know that I want to work in outreach after I complete my PhD. My experience here has inspired me to explore a career that I did not know existed before I returned to education. There are so many opportunities out there – go for it!”

What are your plans for the next year? 

“I will be continuing with my PhD studies which I find fascinating and enjoyable, although it is also most challenging. I have great supervisors, and I enjoy the autonomy which PhD study provides. However it can be rather isolating, so it is important for my mental health to have other interests alongside it.

This means that I will also be continuing as an outreach ambassador and tutor, as student Rep, and as part of the Mature Student Society committee. In all these occupations I have amazing friends and activities, all of which make me happy. No changes required!”

Do you know an inspirational student or student group? Let us know.

Learn more about the Kent Stars campaign.