Ann Gordon is a Scholarships & Financial Capability Adviser within Student Services. She’s originally from Edinburgh (Ann says it’s the best city in Scotland, we might have to contest that…) and graduated from Aberdeen in History of Art in 1997. Ann lives and works in Dundee, Scotland’s sunniest city – which is a nice reflection of Ann’s own disposition.

YOUR WORK

What’s your role at the University? I perceive myself as just one of the team – less an individualist, more a team player. I am a supportive team member and supportive of our work – we work well as a team. I work closely with other teams in the University such as Accounts Payable, the Scholarships team who are a part of External Relations, and also the Development team.

Our work has been recognised by the Senior Management Team as many of them attend our Panel for Financial Aid, and externally, members of SAAS have given us a ‘gold star’ for how we manage and distribute our Discretionary Funds and how we empower our students. This year, we were fortunate to have the MSP and Education Minister, Richard Lochhead attend our Panel as the Discretionary Funds are now a trending topic! The team are all members of NASMA, National Association of Student Money Advisers, which is has members from all four countries in the UK, so we keep up-to-date with all current affairs relating to student funding and money matters UK-wide. We also administer the Period Poverty initiative whereby period products are provided in as many places as we can get them around campus.

What do you do at work? I’m one of the longer standing members of the Student Funding team (this is my 16th year at the University and in the team!). The team is led by Sharon Sweeney, and my colleagues are Pamela Lockhart, Liam Quinn, Aaron Duncan, Shan Marshall and Audrey McGalliard, and I think we make a big contribution to the university community.

As you can see from my job title, I’ve got a couple of main priorities: most of my job is taken up working with many scholarships – from University sponsored scholarships to donations received via our Development team in External Relations, and everything in between. This part of my role has developed over the last few years and continues to grow each year. One of the big projects I’ve taken on is the distribution of the Dental Additional Year Bursary for all the BDS students who have had to undertake an additional year of study. It’s a big piece of work to develop in a relatively short turnaround, but hopefully we’ll get this organised so that these students receive their bursary payments soon after their term starts. The other part is financial capability work which can encompass providing 1-2-1 budgeting sessions for students, producing the Student Funding newsletter which has money-saving tips and ideas as well as up-to-date community information, working on National Student Money Week which occurs every February, and anything else that I can get my hands on to help students get the information and learn life skills around money management. I have the lead in promoting much of our work on social media and on our webpages.

What gives you satisfaction in your work?  I like working with students, either through the 1-2-1 budgeting sessions or (when we are allowed again!) at our events and stalls highlighting our Period Poverty work and financial capability work. I also enjoy my role on the Panel for Financial Aid where I am able to put forward a student for one of our donations or other scholarships that we distribute. It is lovely to hear feedback from students when our help (and it doesn’t always have to be giving away money) really has made a difference to their situation. I also enjoyed creating the new process in which students applied to us for financial assistance. This involved research into MyDundee and Microsoft Forms/Sharepoint – ultimately enabling digital applications and streamlining our back of office processes. I’d like to take this forward in my scholarships work.

What challenges do you face and how do you deal with them? Time! Nothing new there, I would imagine it’s the same for many staff. We are lucky this year to have two Community Education students interning with us, and they have helped tremendously with the financial capability side of my job by facilitating some projects and taking over Instagram as part of NSMW. This year, I’ve had assistance with the scholarships process from my colleague Audrey, and that really helped my stress levels during Semester 1! Another challenge is adapting to the digital age – much of the scholarships process is outdated and too manual.

The best thing about your work? Variety – every day is different with a different focus and the positive impact with have on students’ lives.

And the hardest? Hearing the harrowing and extreme circumstances many students are experiencing. It keeps me humble and thankful for what I have.

WORKING FROM HOME

How has the current lockdown/work from home situation affected what you do? I’ve been very fortunate – the University enabled me to have a set up at home that really works for my work and the team. The life/work balance has really worked for me in that respect. Teams has been invaluable when speaking with students in real time and keeping in touch with each other. Our financial capability work has largely been online so that isn’t as satisfying as being out there on Campus Green or Level 2 of DUSA giving away our goodies and highlighting our work, and I’m looking forward to getting back to that next academic year.  As we’ve partially returned to campus now, it’s good being back on site and seeing a few friendly faces around!

Have you found working from home to be more or less effective in terms of work delivery and the job that you do? There have invariably been hiccups with everything being done online or via email, but they were ironed out fairly quickly. Working from home hasn’t really hindered my scholarships work and I have to say that the interruptions are less!

How have the needs and demands of students changed and what are you doing that is notably different from normal in the current situation? As a unit, we moved everything online and into the 21st Century, so that was a major piece of work I undertook last summer to enable students apply for financial assistance without filling in pieces of paper. Obviously, we have witnessed the major impact Covid-19 has had on many of our students, the loss of so many student part-time jobs and parents’ jobs which impact our students’ ability to afford staying financially afloat is one of the major differences we have faced in the last year.  We have also had many more applications from EU and International Students who were stranded in Dundee as they couldn’t travel home. In February 2021, we received extra money from the Scottish Government which we had to spend with six weeks! Needless to say, the team ended up dealing with 300% of an increase in applications for financial assistance, and as a result we were very stretched resource-wise. The impact of Covid-19 continues to be the largest reason for financial assistance applications, and we can’t see that diminishing in academic year 2021/22 so we are poised for more of the same.

We also arranged, with the help of DUSA and the Enquiry Centre, bags of store-cupboard items for students in Residences and throughout Dundee. We have also been administering the Digital Fund whereby students who do not have the digital equipment required for their course can apply via our financial assistance form for a laptop for the duration of their studies. My colleague Aaron has been liaising closely with the IT department to facilitate this crucial provision for students.

Has there been a particular support? Pamela Lockhart as Student Funding Adviser, meets with students via Teams if they require more support. As part of the Student Services Directorate, we are fortunate to have good links with our colleagues in Disability Services, Counselling and the Enquiry Centre if students need more support. Our colleagues in Sales Ledger and Accounts Payable have also been working hard with us to make the student experience seamless. As a team, we have always had our ‘coffee morning’ meeting every morning from the beginning of the pandemic – sometimes it only lasts 15 mins, other times it lasts longer, but it’s an opportunity for us to chat about a lot of nonsense and keep up with what’s happening with us all outside of work, so that’s been good for morale and kept us connected.

Is there anything new within the current situation that you hope will continue after we return to campus? Paper is now gone from our office! A hybrid working situation looks like it will continue to happen which makes for a good life/work balance.

CAMPUS LIFE

Do you miss the campus you work on? Yes, it’s always nice to be around the Support Hub with colleagues. And of course, I miss the atmosphere of being part of a busy campus.

What do you most look forward to doing once you are back on campus? Catching up with everyone in the Support Hub and other friends.

Tell us – what’s your campus hotspot? Geddes Quadrangle for lunch and DUSA for coffee 😊

Is there anyone at the University who inspires you? I don’t feel that I can single out one person – I am grateful to know so many caring people working in our Directorate, all of them influence and inspire.

How would you describe the University to someone who doesn’t know it? Friendly, innovative, compassionate and empowering.

ABOUT YOU

What do you do outside of work? I spend my time gardening, home decorating, cooking and baking (I love a good chocolate cake), walking – lockdown pastimes! When we are allowed to, travelling abroad is a passion (Berlin has been my favourite place so far), going to the cinema, live music events, eating out, visiting Edinburgh (the home of my heart).

Tell us something we don’t know about you? I was lucky enough to be in the audience at Live Aid in 1985! It was amazing! I studied at the University of Aberdeen and graduated with a MA in History of Art.

Who would you invite to a dinner party? Based on the above, one person has to be Sir Bob Geldof, also, Sir Tom Jones, Stevie Wonder, Freddie Mercury, Chris Evans (the Captain America one), Aretha Franklin, Stevie Nicks, Paloma Faith, k.d. lang, Leonardo da Vinci and Henri Matisse.

Why Dundee? We actually moved to Dundee from North-East Lincolnshire – where we had lived for a couple of years – due to a change in my husband’s job. Originally, I had a job at St Andrews university, but made my move to the University of Dundee in 2001 for a job with more of a challenge and scope – and that has certainly worked out!