Building City Connections thanks to Sheffield Alumni
On Wednesday 2 May 2018 we took 30 current Arts & Humanities students from widening participation backgrounds to London to visit alumni businesses and network with alumni. The event in London, along with two workshops in Sheffield, aims to raise the confidence and aspirations of students, develop their commercial awareness, and introduce them to a network that they may not otherwise have access to.
The students began the day with a workshop on the creative industries, delivered by award-nominated screenwriter and playwright, Ade Solanke. Ade studied English Literature at Sheffield and received our Distinguished Alumni Award in 2016. Ade talked about her current role as the founder and artistic director of Spora Stories and her writing for theatre, as well as her varied career as an arts journalist, founder of an arts PR company and her work in Hollywood for Disney, New Line and the Sundance Institute as a story analyst.
Ade encouraged the students to think about the wide variety of roles and opportunities available to them within the creative industries (research, marketing, advertising, fashion, photography, museums, music, books, translation - to name just a few) and to think about all the products the creative industries bring to us. While a career in the arts may traditionally have been considered risky, Ade stressed how the landscape has changed – the Creative Industries are now ‘Big Business’.
Much of Ade’s work has focused on promoting the untold stories of African heritage. During Q&A we talked about how the industry has been dominated by those from privileged backgrounds but there is a tide of change, and the new generation coming into the arts have a role to play in continuing to break down these barriers. Ade’s top tips for students wanting to purse a creative career were to foster an entrepreneurial drive, turn disadvantages into advantages and tell the stories that need telling!
Our next visit was to the BBC at New Broadcasting House. There the students had a very informative talk from Ellena Stojanovic and Affie Jeerh from the BBC Academy Scheme team. Ellena and Affie introduced the wide variety of roles at the BBC from journalism to production, legal to business and engineering, and to the core principles of the organisation’s mission: to Inform, Educate and Entertain.
Next came a real highlight of the day – a talk from BBC journalist, documentary-maker and Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis. Emily received an Honorary Degree from the University in 2015, and was brought up and went to school in Sheffield.
Emily gave a fascinating talk about her career journey as a journalist ; she worked for several years in the Far East (where she covered the handover between Hong Kong and China), and for Sky News here in UK before moving to BBC. Emily gave the students an honest insight into the highs and lows of journalism and stressed the value of making and learning from your mistakes. She explained how the path that led her to the job she loves hadn’t always been easy or clear to her, and she encouraged them to explore opportunities, try new things, push against boundaries and find out what makes them tick!
Our final visit was to Lloyds Banking Group where we were welcomed by alumna Alette Steuart-Smith, Senior Programme Manager for Group Transformation. Alette gave us a great introduction to Lloyds and the breadth of roles across the organisation. She spoke about her time at Sheffield and her long and successful career at Lloyds, which she describes as “like having had lots of different careers within the same organisation.”
The students then heard from Zak Main, Group Director for Transformation, who gave an inspiring talk about his career progression and the importance of not restricting yourself and your aspirations. Entering Lloyds as an Asian man from Huddesfield, Zak “did not see anyone who looked like me” at senior management level, and passed up opportunities to take on more responsibility before he was encouraged to push himself forward by a supportive manager - he now manages a team of over 10,000 staff!
Zak also talked about the challenges and opportunities that come about as a result of new technologies. His advice for students seeking the right role is to “ask yourself on a regular basis whether you would apply for your own job”. The workshop finished with a business game on collaboration and information in problem solving which got all the students energised and working together in teams.
The day culminated at an evening networking event with a range of successful Sheffield alumni. The evening was opened by our Interim Head of Faculty for Arts and Humanities, Professor Dawn Hadley who welcomed all our guests and introduced our alumna host Alette Steuart-Smith. Guests were able to mingle over drinks and canapés, with our alumni providing a supportive and friendly environment for the students to develop their networking skills, and find out more information about different career paths and sectors.
Find out more about being a Sheffield Alumni Volunteer
City Connections is a unique employability initiative now in its fourth year. It is run as a collaborative project between Development Alumni Relations and Events, and the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.
The students are all currently studying an Arts & Humanities degree and the majority are in their second year of study. They are the first generation in their family to attend University, from areas where few people attend University, are on financial aid to attend University, or are from under-represented groups in higher education, such as black and minority ethnic, disabled, young carers or have experience of being in care.
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