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      MAKING A DIFFERENCE

      Work/life experiences of Brookes’ academics

  • ALISON'S STORY

    Providing students around the world with an excellent learning experience with their ambitions being realised, continues to motivate me.

    Alison Honour is a former Professor and Associate Dean for Student Experience at Oxford Brookes University.
  • Alison’s upbringing had a big impact on her. Due to her father’s job as an engineer, the family moved regularly for his work - living abroad and travelling to places like the West Indies, USA, Canada and Europe. These early experiences exposed Alison to the differences in educational opportunity across the world. This, along with her background as the first in her family to benefit from higher education, entrenched her belief in the value of a good education and her tendency

    To support those from more diverse and less advantaged backgrounds.

    Alison’s early life also inspired her creativity. Whilst neither of her parents had gone to university, her mother had a natural curiosity for art galleries and museums, taking the young Alison around the corridors of these creative establishments in each new place that they lived.

    This early introduction to the arts nurtured what would become a lifelong passion for Alison. Despite finding school a “bit of a struggle leading to a tendency at times to be mildly disruptive”- and only afterwards being diagnosed as dyslexic - her creative talent meant that she was awarded a place at the highly prestigious Central Saint Martins (CSM), University of the Arts, London (UAL), to study Sculpture.
    Entering the elite CSM increased Alison’s awareness of social and educational difference:

    Coming from quite a modest background, there were some students there who were much more connected and had much higher social and cultural capital.

    Upon graduation in 1991, Alison became a Technical Specialist at, as it was then, Oxford Polytechnic. During this time, she managed to be the first technician to get support to study for a part-time postgraduate degree, which she did at Wimbledon College of Arts (UAL).

    Getting this support was quite hard as at the time this wasn’t available for technical support staff, so I’m always someone who is pushing the boundaries a little bit.

    She started doing part-time teaching and then lecturing at this time - the beginning of her career as an academic.

    Alison pursued her commitment to education and went on to work in Further Education (FE) Colleges. Whilst some of these were “quite hard stints”, she says:

    I believe that education has the ability to transform, especially if you can locate an intrinsic motivation, a love of wanting to learn. It’s about finding a way of engaging students who have disengaged due to previous educational experiences.

    Alison came up with ingenious ways of doing this, such as getting her students to work on tattoo designs. Alison has also applied this talent for teaching in her voluntary work in prisons and with children excluded from mainstream education.

    It was really about getting them excited and building their self-esteem. Making them feel, for probably the first time in their lives, that they were good at something.

    Alison carries this passion for education into her role at Oxford Brookes. Missing the intellectual engagement of the academic learning environment, she took up a job here as lecturer in 2005 after having run her own successful Art Agency and Gallery.
    In 2008, Alison successfully applied for the position of Head of School, and credits the support and inspiration of her female colleagues:

    I’ve been really fortunate to work alongside very strong female leadership. The person who gave me my very first job, Catherine Atherton…she was amazing, she had an incredible work ethic but she also really understood what it was to be a parent. If it wasn’t for Catherine supporting me when our first child was born with a serious congenital heart problem, I probably would have abandoned my career so I owe a great deal to her.

    She also cites Professor Anne-Marie Kilday and Professor Janet Beer as key leadership influences:

    I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to observe their leadership approaches and strong personal qualities and to have had those role models.

    Leadership is extremely important to Alison - and she brings her creativity to shape her personal approach to it which she describes as

    Conscious leadership, responsible leadership and generous leadership.

    I like to be creative in my leadership…When you are creative you tend to be good at wanting to find solutions, going around barriers to find solutions.

    Leadership for her is largely about helping other people to succeed. Alison mentors colleagues on the Aurora and Springboard programme and is also a national role model for the Aurora Leadership Foundation programme speaking at national events. She also leads on Social Enterprise at Brookes which has seen her support around 60 enterprise proposals from students and staff. Success Following from this drive to help others, Alison’s idea of success is helping others to get promotion. She gets immense satisfaction from feeling like she’s helped students as well.

    In FE, when a parent says: ‘I don’t know what you’ve done but they’ve never, ever stayed in their room to do work and they’re coming in every day and they’ve never attended school. They are like a different person: happy, confident, ambitious’. If I feel like I’ve had a part in that through my teaching, that’s pretty great. Hearing from students who now are employed around the world, their ambitions being realised, gives me such a thrill.

    Alison is married with three children. Her husband, an Executive Manager and PA at Brookes, takes over when work takes her abroad and over time their roles have changed: her husband went from being the main breadwinner to Alison’s career taking the bigger focus.

    We always have those conversations about how family and working life is going to work and I think that’s really important.

    Alison manages her responsibilities at work alongside those as a parent as well:

    I never miss parents evening, I never miss plays and I’ve always been at sports days. I feel quite fortunate really that on the whole, the key important stuff that they remember now is that mum has always been around.

    She’s thinks that it is important that her children have their mother as a role model -

    They are really proud that their mum is a professor, and they go and tell their friends.

    Always work to your discipline strengths whether it’s practice, action or textual based research and be prepared to be more flexible and research differently once you’re a parent.