On 16 June 2020 West Lothian College’s Board of Governors said farewell to our Student President and Vice President, Michelle Low and Gemma Reynolds, who had just completed a two-term period of office.
Board members thanked Michelle and Gemma for their contribution to improving the quality of our students’ learning experience, for the support they had given to students experiencing poverty and mental health challenges, and for their contribution to Board meetings.
Michelle and Gemma took up their paid sabbatical posts at the same time I started as principal at the college in August 2018, and it has been a great privilege to work with such passionate and hard-working advocates of our students. It is impossible to sum up their significant achievements in a few paragraphs but I’ll try.
One of the things that stands out most for me was their commitment to acting on behalf of our most vulnerable students and initiating a range of measures to support them. The work they did to promote better mental health and wellbeing through initiatives like a welfare hub that provided hygiene products, personal care services and advice, a reduced-price breakfast and free soup and a roll, and arranging support from local mental health charities made a huge difference to the students who benefitted from these.
A highlight in 2020 was the campaign to tackle mental health stigma that they designed and delivered in partnership with social care lecturer Marion Darling and construction lecturer Bajiter Pall. Over 1,000 students took part in a wonderful awareness-raising event at which college staff and partner organisations offered advice and services.
Another significant achievement was the work they did through SPARKLE, our Student Association’s evaluation tool to engage students in assessing the quality of their college experience. Through this, they developed excellent relationships with lecturers, managers and support staff across the college with the objective of acting on student feedback. The improvements that arose from this are too many to mention, although it is worth noting that feedback from this process was instrumental in improving access to wi-fi and upgrading computers in classrooms.
Their work in building a strong team of volunteer ambassadors to act on behalf of our students through the SPARKLE process led to our Student Association being recognised by the National Union of Students (Scotland) as College Student Association of the Year in 2019.
Michelle and Gemma have left a significant legacy at the college. Student success increased over the two years and evaluative feedback from the Student Association contributed to that. Another highlight for me was how they worked in partnership with staff to promote equality, diversity and inclusion, and the central role they played in our college being awarded LGBT Charter Silver Status in June 2019.
I am delighted (but not surprised) that Michelle and Gemma secured full time jobs just before their sabbaticals came to an end. What a testimony to their talent, experience and skills!
Michelle is now working with West Lothian Women’s Aid and Gemma with Loretto Care. I know they will excel in their roles and I’m sure that their new employers will realise very quickly just how great they are!
The voice of students matters, and an effective Student Association in a college is essential in making sure this voice is heard. But being heard is not enough. That voice needs to influence and shape college decisions on resources, delivery of learning and teaching, etc.
Michelle Low and Gemma Reynolds achieved this. They more than delivered on the vision of the West Lothian College Student Association — to be the voice of students, only louder!