THE END of an academic year is always a time to reflect on the challenges and successes of the past 12 months.
This year in particular, South Lanarkshire College Principal Aileen McKechnie is proud of what the students and staff have accomplished.
“The pandemic has tested all of us in all aspects of our lives – we have had to find new ways of living and working,” she explains.
“Despite the past year, our learners and staff absolutely rose to the challenge. ”
Director Aileen McKechnie
The East Kilbride-based college, which has around 5,000 students across 200 courses in business, construction and care faculties, is celebrating this week after being nominated for Outstanding Business Engagement in Colleges at the Herald Education Awards for his Upskilling Lanarkshire’s Carers project.
The tailor-made project is a collaboration with the South Lanarkshire Council to train employees in the care sector, which is of crucial importance in today’s climate.
South Lanarkshire College has also received £ 149,000 to retrain and develop people to access ‘green’ jobs in the growing insulation industry. The funding, from SSE Renewables and Clyde Wind Farm (Scotland) Ltd, will help provide additional expert staff to train students in the purpose-built insulation training center.
The College is one of only two in Scotland to be named Pilot Institutions on Gender Based Violence for the charter created by EmilyTest, a Scottish charity working to improve prevention, response and support regarding gender based violence. on gender in higher education.
“We apply a zero tolerance approach to all instances of gender-based violence and have been incredibly proactive in undertaking work in this area to create a safe academic environment for all of our staff and students,” said Ms. McKechnie. “This work has also extended to the wider community through our participation in local events and activities. ”
Recent student successes at South Lanarkshire College include Ellie Turner, a professional cooking student who finished second in the Student Watercress Challenge by Passion To Inspire, which drew 52 registrations from 18 colleges across the UK; and Jodie McKenna, a level 6 professional cooking student, who secured a place in the final of the Zest Quest Asia Tilda Challenge, the national student culinary competition organized by the master chefs of Great Britain.
Anna Sanina has started her own chocolate business since studying the College’s Introductory Chocolate Evening Course; and Sharon Robertson McCurdy, a hairstyling student HNC, secured a place in the national final of the Wella Xposure UK competition, which will take place in London in October.
“Our students have really improved,” says McKechnie. “Not only did they stay engaged and motivated, but during these most difficult years, learners across the school, college and university sector worked very hard to challenge themselves and succeed nationally and internationally.
“The ambition remained, not only to take exams and obtain diplomas, but to ask: how to excel? How can I showcase my skills? ”
Ms. McKechnie adds, “It’s very powerful. A story has been built about a “wasted” year or a “lost” generation, but this story is false. ”
Lord McConnell is pictured with Principal Aileen McKechnie and students participating in the college’s development projects
One of the biggest challenges last March was having to adapt quickly to new teaching and learning methods. The College has put in place a range of support measures, ranging from delivering laptops and Wi-Fi equipment to students at home to alleviate digital poverty, to providing electronic resources, to setting up implementing comprehensive mental health and wellness programs online and keeping the campus open during both closures.
“The change was incredibly quick, but the staff were phenomenal,” says McKechnie.
“It’s very different from teaching in front of a screen, when you’re used to standing in front of a class. We introduced innovative practices, such as new “huddle” cameras, where a tutor teaching a small class in college would broadcast it to students at home, making them feel more connected.
“We made sure to run the system on a rotating basis, so that all the students could come to campus at some point, to feel like a ‘good’ student.
“Academic qualifications are important, of course, but social connections and the fun side of college are also very important. ”
It wasn’t just the teaching staff who rose to the challenge, says McKechnie.
“Our business support teams have all been amazing, the Student Services, Human Resources and Finance teams quickly adapted to working remotely while providing support to students and staff, our cleaning and cleaning staff. Supervision of the buildings was fantastic, and of course our IT staff were amazing, tackling the challenges of digital learning and putting more emphasis on cybersecurity, ”she explains.
“Distance and blended learning can leave people feeling disconnected and as we have worked hard to maintain morale and motivation, never losing sight of the health and well being of the entire College community. We had to be flexible and responsive, connect differently and communicate well.
She adds, “I want to recognize the hard work and dedication of all of my staff, who have shown such resilience and genuine courage in the face of a huge challenge, I am very proud of them all.
Ms McKechnie also paid tribute to the South Lanarkshire College Students Association, and in particular its President Gemma McClarence and Vice President Charlotte McDonald.
“I’m really proud of everything they’ve accomplished,” she adds. “They were new to the roles last year, and it mustn’t have been easy to take the helm at such a difficult time, but they worked tremendously hard to find creative ways to engage with students.
“They’ve organized everything from digital mindfulness sessions to virtual Friday lunches, cooking clubs and yoga.”
Reflecting on a year of supporting the entire South Lanarkshire community, Ms McKechnie says the focus is now on rebuilding and strengthening local businesses through skills-based recovery.
“We really want to focus on industry engagement, on how we are creating a more resilient workforce with better skills as we emerge, post-Covid in a world that has changed dramatically.” , she says.
“We will shape our program and review our business model to ensure that we are at the heart of the region’s social and economic recovery.
“It’s a positive end to a difficult year.”