Profile: Nelli Chamings-Manley
Nelli is the Schools Liaison and Access Officer at Univ. She previously studied for a BA in English Language and Literature at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. She grew up in North Devon and studied English Literature, History and Classical Civilisation at A Level.
How did you come to Univ?
I attended a school and FE college where not many people progressed to Oxford or Cambridge University. A major part of me having the guts to apply to Oxford was the support I got from attending the UNIQ summer school in 2010 (the very first year it ran). I became involved with Oxford outreach as a student ambassador during my degree, and by the start of my third year I knew I wanted to work for the University to get more students from underrepresented backgrounds into places like Oxford. I didn’t know much about Univ before I applied for my job but they happened to have a vacancy at the time I was applying for outreach roles. I am so glad they did and that I was successful in getting the job! Univ is such a supportive place to work. Not only has the welcoming community become like a second home, but the students and staff are all fully committed to making Oxford a more open and inclusive place, which makes my job a real pleasure!
What is being a Schools Liaison and Access Officer like?
My role as Schools Liaison and Access Officer exists to provide information and support to students considering applying to Oxford, and to actively encourage those from groups currently underrepresented at the university to consider Oxford. My job is fairly full-on especially during school and University term time. I welcome students and school groups to Univ to provide information about applying to university, give a taste of living and studying at the College and provide a chance to meet current students. Some of the larger events, like our large subject study days and University-wide open days, take a lot of planning in advance. I also am out visiting schools in person several times per term and that can be pretty tiring. However, despite an often hectic and tiring schedule, my job is incredibly rewarding – I get to work with students as they make important decisions at university and meet committed teachers who are really ambitious for their prospective university students!
Are there particularly rewarding or challenging aspects to the role that come to mind?
My favourite part of my job is probably training and working with the fantastic team of “Univ Ambassadors” who help out by conducting tours of college, participating in Q&As and making their own visits out to schools. They are such a friendly bunch of students, committed to telling the world how great Univ is and encouraging students from all backgrounds that Oxford could be for them.
It has also been really exciting to be at Univ while the College has developed its Opportunity Programme. The programme admits ten extra students each year from underrepresented backgrounds and provides bridging support to enable these students to hit the ground running when they arrive. I’m incredibly proud of what it has achieved in making the College be more open to students all backgrounds. We even won a diversity award within the University for the initiative!
Do you have any funny stories from your time at Univ?
Univ’s tortoise, Percy, is often the main attraction at our summer Open Day. One year, we decided that two tortoises must be logically twice as good as one, so also put out Tilly, who belongs to Bob our head porter (now retired). Since Percy doesn’t get out much around other tortoises, he was much too intent on breaking out of his enclosure to flirt with Tilly than being a good host to our open day guests!
Open Days are partly about shouting loudly about how great our college is. One bright idea we had to do this at Univ was to buy a big banner to display our name and logo at our entrance – the problem was that someone in the domestic bursary must have read centimetres as inches, or feet as metres because the banner that turned up was MUCH bigger than expected! We had to stop using it after a while because we were making the wall start to crumble.
Have you faced any challenges (at Univ or more generally)? How did you overcome them?
One of the challenges of my role at Univ is that I am a team of one – I take on the planning of events, delivery, evaluation, as well as training student ambassadors, supporting tutors with their outreach, and keeping contact up with teachers. There is always more that I could be (and want to be) doing! This, coupled with the fact that I hold myself to quite high standards, has meant that I have often felt like I’m not doing things well enough. I’ve learnt a lot about saying no to initiatives that are good in themselves, but that I simply don’t have time or energy to do well.
Are there any myths concerning the University you want to dispel?
A big preconception about Oxford is that you have to be a “genius” to study here. That leads prospective students to worry a) that they won’t get in, and b) all the students here just want to study 100% of the time and don’t have fun. Both of these things are definitely not true! Students that do get a place are clever, but none of them would consider themselves a “genius”. Tutors making admissions decisions aren’t looking for people that already know everything about their subject; they look for students who are willing to have a go at unfamiliar problems and think flexibly and with an open mind. While Oxford students are eager to learn and love their subject (most of the time), they also need down-time and enjoy a wide variety of extra-curricular activities as well. There are hundreds of student societies across the University!
Do you have any advice for prospective students?
My main bit of advice for students considering Oxford is definitely to engage with your subject in your own time. Taking on a degree is a big commitment, and you want to be sure you’re taking the right subject for you. Having a go at “doing your subject” outside school can help you decide whether you want to study it for three or four years. It will also help you develop the skills you need to make a competitive application and get the most out of your degree once you arrive! Exploring your subject can involve reading a book about it, but also listening to podcasts, questioning and evaluating what you read in the news, discussing your ideas about your subject with friends, attending a subject based taster day at Oxford, and more. You can check out our resource hub and reading bank for some ideas on where to start.
Do you have any advice for students at Univ?
Enjoy your time here at Univ – it will pass by really quickly! Also know your limits and don’t hold yourselves to too high standards. Making mistakes and learning from them is a valuable experience.
Describe Univ in three words.
Open, Supportive, Ambitious (in a good way)
How do you feel about the celebration of 40 years of women at Univ? How far do we have left to go?
It’s such a pleasure to be celebrating 40 years of women at Univ – drawing attention to all that women bring to the College, and have done in the past, is so empowering! However, I think there is still a long way to go for the University as a whole. We can’t become complacent, particularly in striving for more equal representation of women in certain subjects, like mathematical and physical sciences, and in positions of leadership. It is important too that we recognise the specific challenges met by women from underrepresented cultural backgrounds and ethnicities, working class women, and women with disabilities. It is important that we continue to celebrate the value that all types of diversity brings to our College.
Women at Univ 2019. Celebrating 40 years of achievement by women students, academics and staff, and recovering the history of women in the College from 1249 to the present day.
Published: 7 May 2019