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Peter Jenkins

Career Path: Graduate Ambassador, Northumbria University
Location: Huddersfield, UK

Environmental health is a career that allows you to change the world, every single day. The size of that world depends on your ambitions and your actions, yet the opportunities to truly make a difference and change lives for the better arise every day. I did two weeks of environmental health work experience in year 10 at school, further work experience in a related field in year 12, and a year placement at University in my third year. I gained student membership in my professional body (who accredit the course), gaining invaluable extra experience in strategy and policy development, which in conjunction with my degree knowledge and work has led me to working with the Northeast region to improve regulatory delivery to thousands of businesses.

What are you doing now?

Right now I am working in Student Recruitment at the University as Graduate Ambassador. This job allows me to speak to thousands and thousands of prospective students, providing information on higher education choices and Northumbria University. Without a doubt, this University shaped my adult life so far, allowed me to grow into a person I never thought I could be and helped me achieve way beyond my expectations. This position as Graduate Ambassador has given me the opportunity to give back to a University that gave me so much.

What was it about Northumbria that made you decide to study here?

The course statistics were a real draw - being best in the country for student satisfaction, employability and grades meant that Northumbria was at the top of my list. That aside it was the open day that sold it to me as the opportunity to speak to staff and students cemented that this course was about supporting and enhancing the students, as much as it was about inspiring them in learning about the many facets of Environmental Health. The buzz of the campus was truly electric, everyone was genuinely happy to be here and the staff made the time to talk through everything with me even though I was deferring my entry until the year after. Without a doubt it made me feel like I belonged here, like I could achieve here, that I could become the person I wanted to be; that I could make a difference and I could succeed.

What was it like studying at Northumbria?

Studying here was a perfect mixture of a barrel of laughs, a springboard for learning about specific things I am interested in and a lightning rod in attracting my attention and keeping it. Throughout my three years of teaching there was a great mix of local, regional, and international field trips that reinforced my learning. There was a great streak of practical projects in all of my years and, due to the size of the lessons, both lectures and seminars were very engaging. The use of technology in my studies was very reassuring whilst using industry standard programs has helped my employability, and being able to work from home on the virtual network allowed me a fantastic freedom of learning. Additionally the 24/7 facilities (library, computers, etc.). Finally the feedback was very constructive, delivered mainly through writing, but staff were always available for a discussion if I wanted further oral feedback.

What impressed you most about our academic staff?

Their enthusiasm and passion for their subject areas relative to their individual students as human beings. To see their commitment to further research, networking, pushing the boundaries of knowledge and inspiring the students to question and research contemporary issues through their module work was definitely the most impressive element. They weren't staff that were just going to roll over on the bare minimum, but really wanted to explore and expand knowledge. More than that, the staff made the course fun! It can be incredibly daunting pushing boundaries and undertaking new primary research, however they were very supportive and genuinely interested in their students' studies. Not once at University did I feel like a number contributing toward a better stat or score, the staff genuinely cared about me as a person and took the time to remember things about me and what was going on in my life, both personally and academically. It was this human element relative to my learning that shone out for me, it was reassuring and nice to know that there was a genuine care and interest from the staff.

How connected was your course with industry?

Guest lecturers were plentiful, both integrated into modules and outside of class time, augmented by the course being professionally accredited by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. This accreditation led to fantastic networking opportunities within the institute and region and the experience I gained definitely helped me in my placement year at Newcastle City Council. Having some guest speakers who were alumni of the course was a fantastic touch, it provided a real, credible link through the years of the degree and into the world of work while also providing additional information on a module area. All in all, a very connected course.

How did studying at Northumbria help you achieve your career goals/give your career the edge?

It helped give my job an edge through being a Student Ambassador in my final year, which gave me direct experience into the role of Graduate Ambassador and undoubtedly helped me with my application. The networking opportunities through my degree helped me change national policy; create, organise and deliver two student conferences in the region network with many regional heads of service who worked in environmental health; and receive professional development and training sessions whilst still at University. The degree itself gave me a wealth of national and international knowledge on environmental health, it also allowed me to explore and undertake cutting edge research which is now being explored by the North East region and the 12 combined local authorities within it to promote legislative compliance and economic growth. Additionally I undertook several qualifications related to environmental health which have made me even more employable as a result.

What was the best thing about your course?

The diversity! Absolutely the diversity of things I learned. From first year we learned about disease (actually creating cultures of bacteria in the lab), sustainability, ecosystems, fundamental theory to environmental health and much more. This was all through lab work, field trips, group projects, and coursework. In the final year we went to Amsterdam on a field trip to look at how drug use and prostitution (complete with a tour around the red light district) affects public health and how it might affect the health of the UK public should policy be transferred here. We also looked at how to save the lives of 10,000+ people should a dirty bomb go off in the middle of Newcastle city centre, based on civil contingency plans we enacted from active air dispersion modelling. Before University, never in my life did I think I would be studying and thoroughly enjoying it, but the modules were fascinating! Some might say that what we learned about in final year was controversial, however I refute that due to it giving me a key perspective on real world events that mean I am better prepared for cultural and legal changes from Europe, or inspired by the rest of the world. Throughout the whole time it was a very interesting, very diverse and very contemporary course - I loved every second of it as a result!

Which skills/knowledge did you learn on your course that you use most now throughout your career?

In my current job, I am using the soft skills the most. Things like time management, project management, research skills, presentation skills and interpersonal skills. While my job is enjoyable, it is not one that I use the specific information I learned within my degree, nevertheless these transferable skills have been invaluable in helping me through my job and achieving fantastic results here.

What did you enjoy most about your time at Northumbria University?

Making new friends. I came here not knowing anyone but met the most important people of my adult life here. I met my best friend (who is now representing 30,000+ students in our Students' Union!), I met my long term girlfriend of 3+ years when I was volunteering as a Freshers Week team leader and I have made countless professional contacts. Without a doubt, the people make this place an exciting, fun, and inspirational place to be and I'm truly glad to have met them.

What advice would you give somebody who is thinking of studying at Northumbria?

Check how modules are assessed. I take it you want to succeed? Absolutely! Who doesn't?! But one thing that goes amiss a lot of times is that some students choose a course that isn't suited for them in assessments. Check out if it is exams, coursework or practical assessment. Personally I hate exams, mainly because I'm rubbish at them due to having a memory like a sieve and so choosing a course that fit my strengths (eg. primarily coursework) meant that I could succeed more, due to the measuring stick of success being in my court. Also check out the city and the area! I've been here five years and I'm still learning new things about this place!

How would you describe your time at Northumbria in three words?

Fun, inspiring and enhancing.

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