Trinity’s Access and Outreach Programme has expanded, with a second Schools Liaison Officer, innovative partnerships, and new videos about College life. Schools Liaison Officers Terri-Leigh Riley and Caitlin De Jode explain what they do and why.
How do you divide up Trinity’s access and outreach work?
Terri-Leigh: Trinity’s areas under the University’s Area Links Scheme have expanded recently to include Reading, West Berkshire and Wokingham (shared with Corpus Christi), as well as Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and Milton Keynes. I am responsible for visits to schools in those areas where I talk about applying to top universities and support students with applications to Cambridge (and sometimes Oxford and other unis too).
I love talking to Year 10s and 11s about A-level choices, having made a few bad decisions myself, which delayed me getting to uni. It sounds dramatic, but you really can change the whole course of someone’s academic life in a 30-minute discussion. I also organise the twice yearly Teaching Tour to schools with Trinity academics, who offer lectures and Cambridge supervisions.
Caitlin: Trinity has just joined a new University partnership, Connect to Cambridge, which links the Colleges to local schools in Cambridge and Peterborough. We work with people of all ages, from primary school children to mature students, so it’s a lot of work! I organise tours of Trinity for groups of potential applicants, during which I tell them about university generally, introduce Cambridge and, depending on the age range, explain the application process. I am also responsible for Trinity’s subject-focused residentials, where students experience College life for a few nights and get a taste of studying at Cambridge.
I meet regularly with the TCSU’s Access and Admissions Officer, Lauren Brown, as well as our network of fantastic student volunteers. Undergraduates often have the most innovative and effective ideas for access events, so it’s really important that we work together. For example, last year, former TCSU BME Officer, Sarah Lusack, devised and ran the Trinity’s first BME Student Conference. It is also vital that students from under-represented backgrounds feel supported once they arrive at Trinity, and so we work with the College’s Tutorial Office and across the University to facilitate that.
What’s the best part of your job?
(The immediate response was: ‘Seeing students who took part in our activities turn up as freshers!’ So we asked Caitlin and Terri-Leigh what else…)
Terri-Leigh: Seeing a real change in someone’s perception of Cambridge, whether that’s over a 30-minute conversation or a three-day residential. It’s a shame that so many myths and stereotypes still exist about Cambridge, but it’s great to see the surprise and the change in people’s attitudes when they learn what the University is really like.
Caitlin: I really enjoy seeing the look on people’s faces when they walk into Great Court for the first time. I remember that feeling very vividly from when I visited Trinity during the University Open Day. Doing access and outreach work as an undergraduate meant that I never took being at Cambridge for granted.
How did you find the transition from Cambridge student to College employee?
Caitlin: Very strange! I graduated from Trinity in June 2016, and so working in the Admissions Office over the summer when College was almost empty felt very different from the madness of finals and May Week! Since then I’ve been able to forge new relationships with College staff, and I’m in awe of the dedication of the Admissions and Tutorial staff who do so much for students. I miss some of the benefits of living in College (although it’s great to have a proper oven!) but I manage to sneak in the odd appearance for Cambridge’s greatest sports club, Trinity ladies’ netball team.
I knew that I wasn’t ready to leave Cambridge and contributing to Trinity’s vital work with schools is really fulfilling. Plus, it’s so nice to be able to walk out of Great Gate at the end of the day and not be worrying about my next essay!
Terri-Leigh: I graduated from Sidney Sussex College in 2014, so I have one college that’s ‘work’ and one that’s ‘home’ – and I love them both! I was an Access Officer at Sidney Sussex – this job at Trinity means that I get paid for something that I absolutely loved doing for free for three years. I still feel really lucky.
What do the new videos bring to Trinity’s access and outreach work?
Terri-Leigh: As hard as we work, it’s not possible to reach everyone. The videos are a great way for students all over the country, and the world, to see a bit of what it’s like to study here. The videos are short and snappy and I’m hoping that they will reach students who are really hard for us to make contact with – those who are so sure that Cambridge isn’t for them that they wouldn’t sign up for a residential or come to a talk in their school. Watching a short video just out of curiosity could make them think again.
Caitlin: It is great to see the College move into the 21st century with regards to the resources provided for students and the videos demonstrate that. They give a taste of student life to those applicants who don’t get a chance to visit Cambridge before applying and help dispel some of the common misconceptions about the University.
What is the most important aspect of widening participation and broadening access to higher education?
Terri-Leigh: Everyone is worse off – universities, individuals, the country as a whole – when talented, intelligent people miss out on opportunities because of their background. A new, exciting and important element of our work focuses on raising educational attainment. There is still a gap in academic attainment between students from less privileged backgrounds and their peers, which can be a real barrier to widening participation work. Trinity’s new partnership with Villiers Park aims to help tackle this issue.
Caitlin: Sustained engagement with students is vital. A one-off session in Year 12 is not enough – educational disadvantage affects young people throughout their school life, and often has knock-on effects on their careers. Our work with primary school children can make a difference to their aspirations and attainment throughout the transition to secondary education. Their perspectives on life at Trinity are valuable to us too. I’ve had more than one Year 6 pupil ask ‘Why aren’t there any pictures of ladies on the wall?’ during lunch in Trinity’s grand hall, and the rules about not walking on the grass are always interrogated with curiosity.
It is important to understand that our access and outreach work is not just about recruiting more applicants to Trinity. Of course, we want to increase the proportion of Cambridge students who come from backgrounds that are underrepresented across the University, but we also aim to widen participation in higher education more generally, and raise the aspirations of all of the children and young people we work with, regardless of whether or not they choose to apply here.