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Old school ties

How schools across the country are building and maintaining an inspiring network of alumni

Posted by Hannah Oakman | October 05, 2016 | School life

Once a student leaves independent school, there’s no need to lose touch – successful alumni can boost a school’s reputation, provide strong role models for current students and even help set up charitable initiatives.

Maximising expertise

Alumni with a special skill or field of expertise make great visiting speakers, to inspire current pupils and provide a role model for their future careers.

Students at independent sixth form college, Abbey College Birmingham, recently got an insight into university life and career options when former student, Hasnain Masood, gave a motivational talk about his journey to becoming an auditor at RBS Investment Bank. Hasnain took his GCSEs and A-levels at Abbey College, graduated in 2011 and secured a place at the University of Birmingham, where he obtained a First Class Honours Degree in Accounting and Finance. His role at RBS covers the Foreign Exchange Trading business.

Hasnain spoke to the students about the transition into University and how to seek support when needed. In addition, he gave pointers on how to build an effective CV and apply for graduate jobs early, as well as giving an overview of the RBS Graduate Programme and the diversity of schemes available for graduates.

Hasnain wanted to share his experience with the students who have just sat their final examinations and encourage them to make the most of the support available at college.

He said: “Participate at university events, make the most of what the campus has to offer as the University life and experience will arguably be one of the most memorable. Your commitment to extracurricular events on campus, networking and building your profile will all help you when it comes to applying for graduate jobs. Utilise the Careers Network and apply for internships early in the programme as the more practical experience you are able to get under your belt, the more you will stand out from the competition.”

Pupils at Manchester High School for Girls were fortunate to spend time with former pupil Dr Kotska Wallace, who is currently Principal Engineer at the European Space Agency in The Netherlands. This was the first time that Kotska had returned since leaving in 1989.

Kotska spoke to the preparatory students about satellite missions to Venus, Mercury and Mars, as well as the asteroid belt that surrounds Jupiter. With year 12 physics students, Kotska spoke in more detail about her work on the EARTHCare Mission which studies our planet’s atmosphere in a bid to inform knowledge of climate change and ability to predict weather patterns.

The recent EU referendum was even touched upon, with Kotska explaining that the work the European Space Agency undertakes is completely independent of the EU set up. The European Space Agency employs 2,233 different people representing 21 different countries.

Of her work, Kotska commented: “There is always a new and unexpected challenge, always a new area of expertise in which to fast-track familiarity. The space industry is very collaborative and I regularly work with colleagues at NASA, Roscosmos in Russia and JAXA.

“Even if you’re not interested in science or engineering but are interested in space and new frontiers, don’t discount a career in the industry. We need specialists in a wide range of fields such as law, finance and psychology to support our work, so go for it!”

Alumni student Hasnain Masood visits Abbey College Birmingham

Leaving a legacy

Five of Manchester High’s super successful alumnae also returned to the school recently, to launch the latest phase of fundraising for the Pankhurst Bursary Appeal. 

The ‘Never Over100ked’ campaign aims to bring the 100th Pankhurst bursary pupil to Manchester High School for Girls.

Vicky Kloss, Chief Communications Officer for Manchester City Football Group, Laura Earnshaw, former Head of Global Talent at AstraZeneca, and Lucie Hinton, USA Project Co-ordinator for Manchester Airports Group joined 2016’s Head Girl and Deputy Head Girl, Sophie Haughton and Ebubechi Okpalugo, to star as case studies in the new campaign.

All the women benefitted from receiving bursary assistance during their time at Manchester High.

At the age of 24, Lucie Hinton is the first person that the Manchester Airport Group has relocated overseas. As USA Project Co-ordinator, she spends most of her time in the New York office which overlooks Madison Avenue and Grand Central Station 

Lucie commented: “Manchester High nurtured my ambition and shaped my moral values. It provided a real point of stability at a time when my home life was quite turbulent. Due to family circumstances I had moved primary school no fewer than five times and I wanted somewhere that would be a constant, somewhere to provide me with a real sense of stability, and Manchester High was it.”

The Pankhurst Bursary Appeal, which helped cover the costs of Lucie’s tuition fees, was launched in 2010 with the aspiration to raise £2 million to enable 100 to pass through Manchester High with financial assistance from the fund.

Dr Kotska Wallace teaches Manchester students about the space industry

Thanks to donations from loyal supporters, 82 girls have benefitted to date and the ‘Never Over100ked’ campaign is about reaching the remaining 18 girls. 

Pamela Wood, Director of Development and Marketing at the school, said: “We are determined to never miss, never fail to notice, never overlook a girl with potential.

“The era of direct grants and assisted places is unfortunately long gone so we cannot rest on our laurels and must proactively fundraise for the remaining 18 girls. We’ll then be getting to work on the next 100.”

Outgoing Head Girl, Sophie Haughton, has studied for the International Baccalaureate qualification during her time at Manchester High and has an offer to read Medicine at the University of Birmingham from September. She commented: “Independent education is just not something that happens in my very normal, very working class family. My parents, aunties and uncles had all gone to the local comprehensive and, until [year six teacher] Mrs Clarke suggested Manchester High School for Girls, that was certainly where I was headed. If I had not been granted a bursary award there is no way my parents could even have considered sending me to Manchester High. It just wouldn’t have been an option.

“Being voted Head Girl by my peers proves that Manchester High is the type of place where it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. Given equal opportunities, anyone can succeed.”

All the world’s a stage

Need an older actor for your school production? Why not cast a former pupil? Barnard Castle School recently did just that, as old boy Peter Hodges joined its production of The Pirates of Penzance after starring in the same play 45 years ago.

In 1971, Mr Hodges performed in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates amongst an all-boy cast. Since 1982, the school has been co-educational and so the 2016 production saw girls and boys taking part.

Mr Hodges went on to send his own three children there, is a past chairman of the Old Barnardians alumni association and is now a governor and chairman of the recently formed Foundation Board, which is to be the focus of fundraising efforts for providing bursaries and ambitious capital projects. Future developments being planned at the school include a dedicated chemistry and biology building, a sports hub and the redevelopment of art studios. 

Now a director at Niven Architects in Darlington, Mr Hodges said: “Returning for the 2016 production of Pirates of Penzance will bring back very happy memories for me from 45 years ago. I won’t be singing any solos this time but am really looking forward to joining the cast and adding some gusto to the chorus.”

Pirates of Penznace, Barnard Castle School, 1971

Get social

Social media can be an effective tool for maintaining contact and building networks with alumnae. The Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) initiated a Facebook campaign to connect former pupils within their respective universities. 

Portsmouth High School, part of the GDST, ran a pilot scheme with Exeter University, where former Portsmouth Head Girl, Ellie Webb, set up a closed Facebook group for GDST alumnae at the university. The Trust Office contacted girls from the 26 schools in the group who were now studying at Exeter, and within minutes over 30 connections had been made on the group. 

Nineteen further groups were set up in the spring of 2016, across the leading universities and led mainly by Portsmouth High School alumnae. In March 2016 a GDST Alumnae on a Gap Year group was set up, chaired by a Portsmouth High School year 13 who was planning to take a year out.

By May 2016, and in the space of four months, over 750 girls were connected with the common bond of being a GDST alumna. 

The aim of the groups was to have a platform for the girls to be able to connect academically and socially across their university but have the common bond of the Girls’ Day School Trust. 

The next cohort of year 13 girls leaving school across the 26 GDST schools and academies will now automatically have a social media platform to join at their university, or have an opportunity to set up a group if one is not already in existence. 

In March 2016 the first ‘meet up’ at Birmingham University was held and was a successful event. Kate McMurrugh, Portsmouth High School Class of 2014 and Chair of GDST Alumnae at Birmingham University, said: “Having a GDST alumnae group at Birmingham has reminded me how much of a tight knit network the GDST is. It was so lovely to meet up with other old GDST girls and get to know them and we will definitely be doing it again. Everyone got on so well and it was great to hear stories about their schools. It has also provided a great way for us to all share opportunities that we’ve heard about through our group and give advice to those considering an experience we have taken part of in the past.”

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