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Celebrating our People: Paul Lam

The University Awards are a great opportunity to show appreciation of the hard work that goes on day to day, here at Warwick! Find out more about our award winners in our series of interviews, highlighting their roles and achievements.

Paul Lam, winner of the Community Contribution (Individual) University Award 2017, is Senior Admissions Assistant in the Student Recruitment, Outreach and Admissions Service.

Tell us a bit about your role:

I process applications for postgraduate study to academic departments that include the likes of WBS and the School of Economics, so it's a very busy role! I provide support and guidance on all aspects of the admissions process to these departments, applicants, the University's overseas agents and many others throughout the admissions cycle. Additionally, I provide support in the production and issuing of CAS (Confirmation of Acceptances of Studies) to overseas students requiring study visas and work on a wide variety of projects on behalf of the Postgraduate Admissions Service management team.

How would you define your project?

Beyond the world of Postgraduate Admissions, I am Director of the Coventry Chess Academy (CCA), a social enterprise and chess club for children, which I founded in 2013 with the support of a social enterprise award from the University. It aims to demonstrate the power of chess to provide children with skills and qualities that will empower them in and outside the classroom. In 2013, chess-playing opportunities for school-children in Coventry were few and far between. Since then, hundreds of children have passed through the CCA’s doors and made tremendous strides on and off the chessboard. Complete beginners have been transformed into proficient chess players. Novices have been transformed into tournament winners. And some of our members are among the most talented chess playing prospects in the country. Three are ranked within the top 20 chess players for their age in the UK and one is ranked as the number 2 player in his national age group. Moreover, members have grown in confidence, made friends and developed their decision-making ability, all while having great fun.

Dozens of Warwick students have volunteered with the CCA since our inception; gaining valuable experience, developing employability skills and making a difference for local children. The contributions of our student volunteers have been recognised by the University. Two were winners of Warwick Volunteer of the Year awards in 2016 and 2017, one of whom has embarked on a teaching career and acknowledged the importance of his volunteering experience with the CCA to this.

In my capacity as CCA Director, I have worked closely with Student Careers & Skills and with Warwick Volunteers, delivering talks on social enterprise for groups of Warwick students as well as one-to-one mentoring. Last year I launched a fundraising campaign through Crowdfund Campus, a University of Warwick-supported platform, which raised £3247 to support CCA members from underprivileged backgrounds to attend chess tournaments and other events which will aid their chess development and I'm delighted to say that this is being put to use as we speak.

Much of the CCA’s success to date is owing to the support and encouragement of the University of Warwick and its people. I feel very proud of the association between the two organisations. Last year, I organised a special event hosted by the University; a chess display by Grandmaster Anish Giri, one of the best chess players in the world, for CCA members which was reported on by the University’s Community Engagement team. CCA members and their parents are aware of the special role played by the University and one of our members even attended a Warwick summer school recently. I would not be surprised to see members studying at Warwick in the not too distant future!

You can learn more about the Coventry Chess Academy and follow the exploits of our members through our website and Facebook page.

Going above and beyond your role:

Combining directorship of the CCA with various other chess commitments and working full-time at the University has been a significant challenge, but I have been fortunate enough to enjoy the support of my manager, the CCA's dedicated team of volunteers and my family. From June 2017 I will be embarking on a one year career break in order to develop the CCA further and teach chess in the community.

How does it feel to have won the Community Contribution University Award?

A big surprise but one which for I feel honoured and humbled. The people who deserve the recognition are the children of the CCA who have achieved incredible feats against the odds and inspire me every day to do what I do.

We hope you enjoyed the University Awards Evening on 12 May. Did you have any highlights?

It is easy to get stuck in a bubble when you spend most of your working day in the same office, so for me it was great to learn about the amazing activities undertaken by colleagues in different departments across the University, many of which were completely new to me.

The University Awards are a great chance for the University to improve and learn from staff initiatives over the year. If you could change one thing at the University, what would it be?

On the subject of bubbles, this is one criticism which I occasionally hear being leveled against the University; being somewhat aloof and isolated from the community on its doorstep. To the contrary, I know for a fact that the University and its people are involved and active in their local community trying to create positive change, but more should be done to highlight this work in order to change people's perceptions.

What would you like to say to the person(s) who nominated you?

I have met my nominator to thank them personally for thinking of me and the work I do with the CCA and taking the time to write such a lovely nomination. It really means a lot.

Extract from Paul's nomination: ‘The chess improvement demonstrated by the members of CCA has been simply amazing. Without Paul’s ideas and hard work, the CCA simply wouldn’t exist but it is also Paul’s inspirational leadership and ambition for both the club and its members that should be recognised.””

Why do you think people should nominate next time (for the 2018 University Awards):

I am sure that there many University staff members out there doing fantastic work that goes above and beyond reasonable expectations, but who do not always receive the recognition which they deserve. It's only right that their efforts are acknowledged.

Paul Lam