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A climate summit full of hope

18 Feb 2020

Meet our Widening Participation champion, Emma Nichols

Emma Nichols

For Emma Nichols, Widening Participation (WP) has allowed her to be creative, access new developments in her subject – physics – and be inspired by the enthusiasm and energy of the academics, students, teachers and the kids that she works with.

But to her delight, her biggest surprise was running a climate summit for primary schools.

“Most of these children were nine or ten years old and I was asking them to stand up and speak at the front of one of our 300-seat lecture theatres – and they were amazing,” she recalls.

“I was blown away by how professional and thoughtful they were and how much work they’d put into their presentations.”

If anything could give us hope for the future, in such interesting times, that might be it.

Emma, public engagement manager in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, in the Faculty of Science and Engineering, organises events and activities for schools and other public audiences outside of the University. This has included WP schools and groups that are underrepresented in physics, such as children with visual impairments. She also has a remit for equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility (EDIA) for our students and staff.

“Although our staff and students do an amazing amount to share their research and their enthusiasm for physics, we get far more requests and engagement opportunities than we could ever fill, so having WP as a priority helps me decide where to focus our time and resources,” she explains.

“It means we’re working where we’re most likely to make a positive difference in people’s lives.”

The WP Annual Report showcases this impact, she adds: “It’s brilliant to see all the great examples of work going on in the rest of the University and projects the Departments could contribute to.

“Profile 10, the BAME Programme, is something I’ve been particularly looking at for an area where we need to do more.

“I really like that the profiles highlight the whole scope of WP beyond pre-admissions outreach activity, since it sometimes surprises people that EDIA is part of my job when really I see it as all part of the same thing – if we’re going to encourage more people from currently underrepresented groups to go to university then it’s on us to also address any structural barriers that might stop those students progressing fairly in their study and careers.”

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