When Oliver Schofield graduated with first class honours in BA English Language and Linguistics, he was the first in his family to be awarded a degree. Until he attended a University of Salford open day, further study hadn’t really been an option, but after experiencing the buzz of life on campus, Oli was hooked and threw himself into his studies.
Five years on from that first open day, Oli’s still on campus, but now he’s a member of staff at the University of Bath, where he manages a team of student volunteers. Oli, 24, describes his unexpected journey through academia.
“I wasn’t really thinking of university, no-one in my family had been and my GCSEs weren’t great, but I came to one of the open days and there was a friendly atmosphere and a buzz about it,” he says. “The team who taught the course were there to talk about it and they were really friendly and interesting. They also told me about a £3,000 scholarship I could apply for and subsequently got, so they were all major factors in my decision.
“That friendly vibe continued when I started on the course. There were only about 30 of us so we had lots of contact with the academics and they all knew us by name. I still keep in touch with some of them.“
During his first year as a student, Oli heard about a scheme called Pass – Peer Assisted Study Sessions – where students in the year above organise study sessions for students in lower years. After attending the sessions as a first-year student, he became a leader in his second year, running weekly sessions as well as having meetings with course lecturers.
“The idea is to get students working together and thinking about things in a more effective way,” he explains. “You have weekly timetabled sessions attached to each module you’re studying, and it’s about getting the students to reflect on the material they’ve been introduced to. The leaders plan the sessions to include lots of icebreakers to get everyone involved, then we see what they’re struggling with, get them to answer their own questions and work through the answers with fun activities. We did things like a revision pass-the-parcel style game, with questions in different layers and a t-shirt for the winner at the end. Anything that would help with revision.”
As well as helping with revision and exams, Oli found participating in the scheme an excellent way of preparing him for a future career.
“I was involved in quite a lot of other extra-curricular activities: as well as Pass, I was a student ambassador and gave talks in colleges and schools. Being involved in so many things made me see university in a different way. I had to get into a professional way of thinking, so even though I only had six hours of lectures a week I treated uni like a nine-to-five job. Structuring my day that way gave me good time-management skills, and I still had time for a social life.”
Oli graduated with a first class honours degree and not long after, the role of peer support co-ordinator came up at the University of Bath. Oli got the job, and is now in charge of managing the university-wide mentoring and peer learning schemes.
“There was a good peer mentoring system at Bath when I started but no official Pass system, “ he says. “Now we have 15 schemes across the university with around 100 leaders. I work with academics to promote the scheme and try and set it up on their programmes, as well as co-ordinating all the student leaders and volunteers.
As well as the Pass leaders, Oli manages a team of 700 mentors who support first year students. It’s a responsible role or someone not long out of university himself. “When I saw this job advertised I didn’t have to think twice – I knew it was my dream job,” he says. “Moving to Bath was quite hard at first. It’s very different to Manchester, but now I’m settled and I absolutely love it here.
“If I hadn’t gone to that open day, I’d probably still be in Burnley. I never thought I’d go to university, never mind work in higher education – I didn’t even know careers like this existed. Now, I’m doing a part-time Masters in education here at Bath, and hoping to move into education policy. I’ll be training academics how to teach.”
Not bad for a boy from Burnley who didn’t want to do a degree.