Putting a Spring(er) in Student’s Steps
We’re proud to count Tilly, the Springer Spaniel, as an honorary member of the Warwick alumni community, as she and her owner, Alison Pigdon offer a helping paw to students through their wellbeing visits with charity, Pets as Therapy.
Alison (Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics & Economics (MORSE), 1984) tells us about her time at Warwick and why she hopes more alumni will want to volunteer.
Why did you choose to study at Warwick?
I loved the campus environment and vibe of Warwick with everything together on one site. There always seemed to be somebody you knew when you were out and about.
I was the first in my family to go to university, so it was all very new and a little bit scary, but I had the time of my life. It was the most carefree period of my adult life.
What happened after you graduated?
After graduating I went to work for a small accountancy firm in Oxford, but I wasn't sure if accounting was what I really wanted to do. A job opportunity came up with a publishing company looking after author royalties. It was the mid-1980s, so records were held manually, and I got the chance to install a computer system for them, which was such a valuable experience. After that, an opportunity came up with one of the imprints of Penguin Books called Hamish Hamilton in London. The authors we had at the time were people like Raymond Briggs, the author of The Snowman, which was so exciting.
I then moved to the Midlands and, having said that I didn't want to go into accountancy, I started working with a firm of Chartered Surveyors as Assistant to the Group Chief Accountant. Working for somebody at the top of the company, I gained lots of experience at that level and learned so much from the executives. I ended up working for the company for just over 30 years, and I was able to do so many different things that you would otherwise have had to change jobs many times to experience. They are even still using the digital accountancy system that I set up for them 25 years later.
How did your time at Warwick help you in your career?
It taught me resilience and the ability to have a measured approach across the subjects I studied. The course content was very varied and didn’t just focus on one thing. I had to be aware of many aspects of what I was learning.
This academic year marks the 50th anniversary of Warwick's Statistics Department. What was your experience of studying MORSE at Warwick?
At school, I was very much into my maths and sciences, but I didn't really want to do a single subject at university. When I found the MORSE course at Warwick, it looked like the perfect combination for me.
We were based in the red brick social sciences building, (which is still there, I'm pleased to say) and it was a very friendly and supportive environment. It didn't feel as though one subject was dominant, which was one of my favourite aspects of the degree.
How did you and Tilly get into doing Pets as Therapy visits at Warwick?
A friend of mine started doing visits with her dog, and I thought it sounded like a great idea. Tilly has always loved people (she prefers people to other dogs!) and I’ve always loved coming back to campus to visit so we applied and were accepted, and we’ve been visiting since March 2019. Our first visit was at Warwick Medical School, but we’ve been to lots of different departments - Warwick Business School, the Library - anywhere that wants us, really! We love it and the other volunteers who don't necessarily have a connection with Warwick get so much out of it too.
How does Pets as Therapy support students?
We get a mixture of students attend the sessions. Some who've got dogs at home and are missing them, students from overseas who haven't seen their pet for a long time. We get people who come along who don't have pets but would really like one and sometimes we even get people who are afraid of dogs and are coming along to have a look. I think for students, it's that ten minutes of totally losing yourself in something completely different. They forget all sorts of stresses that are on their minds and can forget what's going on elsewhere.
What do you gain from volunteering in this way?
I really enjoy meeting current students and talking to them about their experience of studying at Warwick. I had such a positive experience at university but there are inevitably stressful times along the way too so it's very rewarding to be able to provide a distraction for those who come along to our sessions.
If you've got any spare time and an opportunity arises, I'd highly recommend it. I am retired now, but I started volunteering when I was working and managed to fit it around my schedule. It's so well worth it and coming back to Warwick is an even bigger bonus for me.