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Programme Management students compete in Association for Project Management challenge

Karen Thompson, Head of Education & Professional Practice in the Faculty of Management and Jackie Pryce, Head of the Programme Management Office (PMO), have worked closely together in the last few years and have fully embedded the concept of Fusion into their lives, working with and strengthening the experiences of our students.

At the beginning of their collaboration – which began as a chance meeting where they discovered their mutual expertise in project management – Karen worked closely with her industry contacts to give students the chance to engage with local businesses to gain practical experience.

In more recent years, Karen and Jackie have worked together to combine their academic and practical expertise in Programme Management. As part of the Programme Management unit on Karen’s course, students are encouraged to take part in the Association for Project Management’s (APM) University Challenge.

The challenge sees shortlisted teams from local universities pitch their project ideas to the APM Project Board for a chance to win a budget to take their project forward, as well as gain an APM mentor to help them deliver their projects. This ultimately gives them links with industry as well as a chance to put their theories into practice.

However, Karen notes, “the challenge from an academic perspective was how to take this forward; I had 15 or 20 teams participating, but only two or three of them were getting mentors from the APM, so whenever I met with Jackie I’d ask if she’d like to mentor some of the students.”

As a result of Karen and Jackie’s collaboration, numerous students have now been mentored by staff in the PMO, giving them the perfect opportunity to pitch their ideas and put their theories into practice. By spending time in the PMO, students gain invaluable practical, real-life experience in how projects are run. The PMO team have also benefitted from these partnerships with students and used some of the booklets and games that students produced as a result of their University Challenge pitches.

Having mentored students as a result of the APM University Challenge, several Faculty of Management students have taken up their year-long placements with Jackie and her team in the Programme Management Office, something with which Jackie is keen to continue. “I really enjoy working with the students; project management is the bread and butter of my job, but this is where I feel I can make a difference to people and perhaps encourage students to enter into this kind of career.”

Jackie is also keen that staff benefit from this partnership between academics and professional and support staff; “We feel like we’ve gone a bit further with our sense of Fusion; two of our project managers have moved into academia, which shows how much scope there is for people to move around and gain different experiences.”

These benefits to staff have been further strengthened by the fact that Karen and Jackie– in addition to other academics in the Faculty of Management – are now qualified to provide the APM foundation course in Project Management and to date have trained around 100 staff and students. Not only that, but they have had a 100% pass rate for those who have completed the course.

Some staff who have taken part clearly feel it’s given them an advantage. Alex from the Faculty of Science & Technology said; “My job requires me to work on research projects within the university so I was keen to gain a project management qualification to further deepen my knowledge of the discipline. I now feel more comfortable with the project lifecycle and it introduced me to new things to consider which has improved my work. I look forward to taking my qualification further if the opportunity presents itself.

Max Schlutz has recently graduated with a degree in Business Studies and is one of a number of students who has benefitted hugely from Karen and Jackie working so closely together. Encouraged by Karen, he took part in the APM University Challenge where he and his peers developed a team building exercise which they tested out on Jackie and her colleagues. Having gained insightful advice and tips on how to develop their exercise, Max later approached Jackie about the chance to work with the PMO team during his placement year.

“Working in the PMO meant I could put theory into practice and made situations we’d been talking about in the classroom, real”, Max says. “Being both a student and staff member was really eye opening and I gained a totally different perspective about the university.”

Although the role was mainly administrative based, Max was given the freedom to work on and manage small projects and consequently ended up working alongside the Head of Service Excellence, Susanne Clarke, where he played a big part in organising the Service Excellence Conference in 2017.

Tasked with researching the theme of kindness whilst working on the Service Excellence Conference, he developed a wealth of knowledge in an area he’d never previously explored. He subsequently wrote his dissertation – which he presented at a recent workshop about responsible project management – on the development of a kindness framework for BU.

Max firmly believes that his experiences working alongside Karen and Jackie have prepared him for life after graduation. “Working with Karen and Jackie, I’ve discovered some great networking opportunities. I’ve been able to develop highly valuable relationships and have learnt so many new skills, predominantly essential ones such as people skills and how to communicate well. I wouldn’t be in the position I am without the experiences I’ve had.”

Reflecting on their collaboration, Jackie says “We’re an educational establishment and more often than not, there will be someone lecturing on your particular profession, so chances are you can link up with them quite naturally and work out how to encourage Fusion to combine all those key elements of practice, education and research.

“For me, it enhances you a person and offers you the chance to give something back.”