Sian Pierce plays a vital role within the Environment section of the School of Natural Sciences at Bangor University, where as a Senior Tutor she delivers pastoral support for over 500 students and academic staff. She says, “I believe in enabling our students to reach their full potential. My journey with them starts before they arrive here, ending when we hug on graduation day and I get to meet their families.”
Sian, a lecturer in Human Geography, manages the Welcome Week programme, organises peer support, is the Employability Co-ordinator in addition to serving as Disability Tutor within the School.
Working for eleven years as a Civil Servant dealing with Welfare Benefits has given Sian an insight into people and their behaviour in challenging circumstances. She says, “I daily apply what I learned there.” Sian took the decision to enter University as a mature student, initially doubting the wisdom of what she had taken on, when the world which she had entered seemed so alien. Two things helped her to acclimatise: – “I got to know like-minded students and formed a Mature Students’ Association with them. I also took on board the words of a wise tutor, you think the others know everything? Ask the questions they are all too afraid to ask – thirty years later, here I am dispensing similar words of advice!”
Developing new resources aimed at pastoral support, providing feedback and guidance to the University on its procedures for supporting students, enhancing Personal Learning Support Plans and giving advice to academic staff on how they can support students is at the heart of the advocacy role taken by Sian.
Overcoming major surgery and caring for parents whilst working full time has been part of the tapestry of Sian’s life, she says, “learning how to navigate the care system has taught me the value of collaborative working and is something which I apply in my work environment. If I don’t know the answer, someone else in the University will.”
The impact of her work as a Senior Tutor can be seen in the rates of progression and retention for students within the School which have been among the best in the University The rapport that Sian builds with students and her ability to find solutions to challenges particularly for those with disabilities or support needs ensures that there is a culture of inclusion and pathways to learning which has allowed all students to get the most out of their studies. This has led to her being nominated three times for the Outstanding Pastoral Support Award at the Student Led Teaching Awards and winning the award in 2014.
“When I initially accepted the job to be Senior Tutor, I wondered what I had let myself in for and would I be up to the grade? Twenty years and thousands of students later, I still worry about whether I am up to the grade! My journey with them starts before they arrive here, ending when we hug on graduation day. I have cried with them at the funerals of fellow students and held them when they grieved for family members or lost relationships. Everything I do is predicated on making their lives better.”