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Aspects meets Aston's new Director of Student Experience

Jan Wilman

Jan Wilman recently joined the University in the Chief Operating Officer’s Department, taking up a brand new position as Aston’s Director of Student Experience. Aspects caught up with Jan to find out more about this new role.

Before joining Aston, Jan spent the last 11 years working at the University of Salford in Manchester. During her time at Salford, Jan worked in a number of roles; Facilities Manager, Director of Commercial Services and latterly as the Director of Service Development, focused on the University’s Estates and Property Services division. She believes these roles have provided the ideal grounding to deal with the many challenges she’ll now face in her new role.

Tell Aspects about your newly created role as Director of Student Experience

“There are two main strands to my job. The first is being responsible for the Student Services department here at Aston which comprises The Hub, DANU, the Chaplaincy and the Martin Luther King Multi-faith Centre, Counselling Services and Residential Services. The second aspect of my role is to work with colleagues across the University to develop strategies that can be applied across Aston’s range of activities, then ensure they are implemented. This involves working with all academic and support teams.

“I am also responsible for critical student incidents. Unfortunately in a community with over 10000 students, it is highly likely that every year we’ll have a small number of students who are going to experience one trauma or another - such as serious illness. I will lead and coordinate activities to work with those students or their families to deliver support promptly and in a helpful way.”

What attracted you to work at Aston?

“My husband studied at Aston in the 1980s so I’ve always kept a keen eye on the University. I’m originally from Worcestershire and worked in Birmingham for a few years so it is nice to come back to the city.

“The university I previously worked at is similar to Aston in that it was also granted university status in the 1960s but I was keen to work at a university with a stronger reputation and a higher ranking in the league tables. When I read the job description for the Director of Student Experience role it felt like it was describing me!”

What is the first thing you will implement?

“I am currently working on an information and support framework to identify what information and support is being provided to students, when and how is it being provided, and by whom. This will give the University a complete picture and will show areas where improvements need to be made. The experience a student has here doesn't start when they step foot on to the campus in September, it is from the very first moment he or she makes contact with the University.”

What are you looking to implement?

“Whenever I start a job I look at improvements in two ways: what improvements can I implement quickly because they’re relatively straightforward to do, and what is more strategic and will require time and planning.

“There’s currently lots of progress being made at Aston in improving the student academic experience. The University is addressing questions such as ‘what is the quality of students’ teaching like?’ and ‘what quality of support are we giving students?’ I have been contributing to an improved approach to personal tutoring which aims to set minimum standards and give clear guidance in this area.

“I have been delighted to see work taking place to improve assessment and feedback as this is so important to students. Students on one programme or in one school should not feel they’re getting a worse deal than students on another programme or from another school and I will be working to ensure we achieve consistently high standards in everything we do.

"I am also updating the Student Charter so it reflects the changes we are making for students coming to Aston in 2012." 

Are there any challenges ahead?

“In any job the first challenge is building an understanding of how the organisation works. I’m currently spending time holding initial meetings with staff members to build this picture in my mind. I’ve seen some great examples of good practice throughout the University and it is refreshing to work at an institution where academics have ideas for improvements and they’re encouraged to execute these ideas. Initiatives such as Aston Replay and the use of iPads to give immediate feedback in Optometry are just two of the many examples I could cite. There’s also a concerted effort to spread good practice across all schools.

“One of the biggest challenges will be to strike a balance between having standard approaches based on best practice and not being too rigid, which will cause a loss of enthusiasm as staff may feel they can no longer use their own ideas. One of the things I love about Aston is a belief in empowering staff, which clearly motivates people to succeed."

What are you most looking forward to?

“In the discussions I’ve had with colleagues, I have been incredibly impressed by the amount of enthusiasm shown for improving the experience of all our students. It’s great to feel that staff want to make changes, that they have good ideas and are not resistant to change. It is refreshing to be working with people who welcome me with open arms and say “what can we do to make things better?”

“I’m looking forward to helping my colleagues provide our students with the outstanding student experience they so rightly deserve.”

Jan can be contacted on extension 4871 or at j.wilman@aston.ac.uk.

Words by Louise Russell
29 May 2012

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