Each month we want to celebrate staff engagement at Warwick by bringing you the story of what someone has been working on. If you have a great story you'd like to share please get in touch at email@example.com.
July 2021 - A career dedicated to engagement recognised with an MBE
We’re pleased to share that Professor Margaret Low, one of our Honorary Fellows, has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List this year, for her services to public engagement and widening participation.
Commenting on her MBE and how it feels to be recognised, Margaret said:
“It’s lovely, if a little overwhelming and totally unexpected, to be recognised in this way. Everything I’ve achieved has been in collaboration with fantastic colleagues and friends at WMG and across the University. None of this would have been possible without their hard work and dedication.
“I’ve also had the good fortune to work with some brilliant students through Warwick Volunteers who’ve been instrumental in bringing outreach activities into schools.
Margaret has been with us for some time at Warwick, joining us in 1988, having been attracted to the University by the mix of activities – research, working with industry and teaching. Her time at Warwick has taken her to her current role as Director of Outreach and Widening Participation at WMG.
As part of that role, Margaret participates in and coordinates subject specific sessions and activities that support the University’s Widening Participation (WP) Programmes. The WP team at Warwick brings passion, creativity and innovative to inspire young minds and maximise their potential, both on campus and in schools. These events and activities tend to be aimed at young people between 9 and 19, who are state school educated, from low socio-economic backgrounds and students who come from neighbourhoods where there is low progression to higher education.
With much of her time dedicated to developing resources and workshops for schools and community activities, she also supports staff and students at WMG to develop their own outreach capabilities. Alongside this, Margaret also seeks to highlight the value of her departmental research and education to the public through workshops, activities and resources.
A changing engagement landscape
There has been a clear trend of public engagement changing and evolving over Margaret’s time here at Warwick, with more and more focus on how engagement links with the local community and region. The founding of Warwick Institute of Engagement is clear evidence of this – a valuable initiative that gives staff and students the opportunity to share skills and knowledge, as well as developing confidence and new skills. The Institute also makes it more straight forward for people in communities to engage with Warwick, opening channels for conversations and collaborative activities.
There has been ever more importance placed on being able to communicate our work at universities with the public outside our institutions, using straightforward language and creative approaches to complex topics. It provides a means of working collaboratively with the wider community and opens a two-way dialogue between the public and universities.
Why public engagement and outreach matters
Margaret’s work has focused on the development and use of technology. She has found that workshops in this area engaged young people and were valued by school teachers, as they give an insight into potential careers.
Sustainability has also become an increasing focus for Margaret, and of society more widely. As she puts it: “We are surrounded by ‘magic boxes’ of technology, and even a small amount of knowledge of how they work can sometimes be used to get them working again, rather than replacing them should they fail”.
Equipping the public and young people with knowledge like this can prove invaluable in the long run, whether that is in terms of inspiring future careers or arming them with practical knowledge. This is a real, tangible difference that universities can and should make.
The future of public engagement and WP at WMG
The pandemic and the continued disruption that Covid-19 has brought to our lives hasn’t stood in the way of WMG and their activities. In May they launched the ‘Stitch in Time’ project, which uses TurtleStitch, with local primary schools as a Resonate Festival / City of Culture activity. The project will be continuing in the autumn term, with primary school students creating designs to be stitched into fabric.
Thinking about the longer term, the focus is to make Widening Participation and Public Engagement sustainable. The skills and motivation to do public engagement are best when they come directly from the researchers and educators at the cutting edge.
Areas for further development are:
- Embedding public engagement/widening participation in academic culture
- Building public engagement skills in our staff and students
- Collaboration between departments
- Returning to in-person events
- Family-oriented activities
- Building connections between communities