Breaking through barriers and staying positive as a new HEPO

Returning to my old college as a staff member has been a surreal experience. It feels like I have come full circle in the best way; that is not to say, however, that my experience so far has been without challenge.

The college is a vast organisation, spanning four sites and hosting thousands of students every day. As a new staff member, even one who attended the college as a student, it’s all too easy to get lost! Since starting as a Higher Education Progression Officer (HEPO), I have been trying to engage with students with varying degrees of success; after all, with the college being such a big organisation, it has been logistically difficult to reach students in the first place, before even considering the fact that students we as HEPOs work with are living lives characterised by disadvantage, making them even harder to reach.

The very fact that they are hard to reach has resulted in me relying on existing relationships with staff members, some of whom taught me in my own time at college in fact! It has also resulted in my engagements with students building slowly this year, which I can’t help but feel reflects on my work; deep down, however, I know that this isn’t true. The students that I have engaged with have been insightful, bright and full of potential; it is so inspiring to know that I am working to support the next generation of successful HE students.

I have run NCOP drop in sessions with two students so far this year. These sessions provided students with a space to learn about the NCOP Programme and explore their future options. Both with both students feeling “encouraged and pleased,” and one also feeling “surprised and inspired.” Both students felt like they had been shown new options and opportunities for their futures, with one also calling it an “eye-opener.”

During one of the sessions, when I was looking through degree courses with a student, based on their interests, they turned to me and asked “is this all hypothetical, or can I actually do this?” I took the opportunity to encourage the young person, replying “yes, of course you can! You can do anything you want to – the sky’s the limit!” This was a saddening thing for me to hear, particularly as the young person’s teachers had told me that they were incredibly bright and talented, having been nominated for extracurricular opportunities with national organisations. Their potential has ensured that I am determined to support them in following their dreams, as well as the fact that they said engaging with me also “gave them hope.” I am also sure that these engagements will be the springboard of lots of positive focused work for students at Bradford College.

Connor Drake, HEPO at Bradford College