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As we celebrate the academic success of our students this week we caught up with a few of them to find out more about how they’ve been making a positive difference in the city during their studies.

Meet the students

Toby Cotterill – Inspiring young people across the city

Toby Cotterill, Solent University studentDuring his time at the University, Toby participated in our Student Ambassador programme, winning the Team Leader of the Year and Staff Recognition Awards at the Solent Ambassador Awards.

Tell us about yourself, what course did you study?
My name’s Toby, I’m from Birmingham and I was a student at Solent University from 2016 until 2020 where I graduated with a degree in BA (Hons) Business Management. I initially studied a Foundation Year in technology, with a view to studying Business Information Technology but I then decided to switch over to the Business program instead.

What have enjoyed about studying in Southampton?
What I have enjoyed about studying in Southampton and at Solent University is the central location of the city where they are both situated, this has meant that I have been able to stay in the university accommodation and really enjoy living in a city centre and everything that comes with it. Being able to be so close to everything such as the shops, friends and the university facilities has really supplemented my experience of studying in Southampton.

Tell us about your role as a Student Ambassador. What does this involve?
Working as a Student Ambassador was most definitely one of my most cherished experiences that I’ll take from university, it involved working across multiple different departments throughout the university, ranging from Student Recruitment to External Relations. I also had some amazing opportunities to represent the university at our Open Days for a few years, work on the clearing hotline and work on projects with young people across Southampton.

Tell us a bit about some of the projects you’ve worked on. Have you worked with local schools and young people?
I was grateful to be able to work with a multitude of young people from different schools throughout my time as a Student Ambassador. My first notable project was working with students from City College, Southampton where myself and a few other ambassadors were paired up with some students who themselves were training to be peer mentors to their younger peers. I’ve also been able to assist in a few schools in the Southampton area with the Widening and Participation team and assisting their projects such as Exam Preparation and Preparing for University where it was great to share my insights and experiences.

How has being a Student Ambassador supported you?
Although we were supported financially for our work and efforts, I would say I personally benefitted a lot more with my own personal development. Whether that be internal at our university and getting to meet lots of new students and staff members throughout the large departments that we worked in. But also, by developing myself through interacting with different groups from socio-economic backgrounds which hasn’t just enabled me to interact with different people from different backgrounds but also those who have experienced things to myself.

Would you recommend the Student Ambassador programme to other students?
Wholeheartedly. Being able to represent my university has been a pleasure and an honour in many ways, university would have been a lot different without the work I’ve been able experience with the Student Ambassador programme. Being on the programme has very much influenced my decision making post-university where working with young people has led me on to my next chapter as working as a teaching assistant in Madrid.

Didem Honca – broadening awareness of university

Didem Honca, Solent University studentDuring her time at the University, Didem participated in our Student Ambassador programme and won the Admissions Ambassador of the Year Award at Solent’s Student Ambassador Awards.

Tell us about yourself, what course did you study?
I moved to the UK from Germany in 2015 and started studying in 2017 after I decided that the English language is something I feel passionate about and want to be part of my life and eventually my career. I got accepted into the English and Media BA at Solent University and was thrilled to find the balance between theory and practice in my course. Although English literature was mostly theory based, the hands-on learning in the Media part of my course showed me the many skills I could gather. I come from a Turkish family and grew up in Germany and my course helped me to expand and solidify my language skills and having a professional degree in the that language.

What have enjoyed about studying in Southampton?
I enjoyed my studies to the very last day of my course and was pretty sad to have it end too quickly as time seemed to fly in my three year course. I certainly enjoyed the intimate charm of Southampton, because big cities like London can be overwhelming sometimes. As well as the interesting history of Southampton with the Titanic and the closeness to the water is what I liked about studying in Southampton. Watching the cruise ships leaving the port or seeing the ferries and boats coming and going out of the Solent never gets old. Also the closeness to the city Centre from campus was always useful in-between lectures or the gardens which are right in front of the university buildings.

Tell us about your role as a Student Ambassador. What does this involve?
Being a Student Ambassador was a great opportunity in every possible way. Not only have I got to know my university in a different light but I also was able to introduce other people to Solent University and the city who might want  to study here, have already studied here in the past or just want a glimpse on what it means to be a university student in general. It involved working with different age-groups and people from in and outside the UK, and show them what it means to study, live and work in Southampton. I’ve been involved in promoting the university in every way from photo shootings to attending UCAS Fairs, providing campus tours to school groups and alumni. The role has also provided me with training and enabled me to become a Team Leader, Campus and Resident Tour Guide, or a helper with the Southern Universities Network Team, which works with school and vulnerable children. 

Tell us a bit about some of the projects you’ve worked on. Have you worked with local schools and young people?
Work as a Student Ambassador is not limited to the University campus and involves trips to schools, providing young children the chance to learn what a university is all about and that a degree is not a luxury but an opportunity that should be available to everyone. I have  worked with young children and vulnerable teenagers on and off campus to show them the opportunities that are available to them after they finish their school and are free to choose their career options. I enjoyed being able to explain that University is not only an option for students with the best greats but rather it is a place where you are able to find your passion in life and hopefully expand your horizon to help and guide you to the next steps in life. 

How has being a Student Ambassador supported you?
Being a Student Ambassador supported me as a EU-Student because it gave a better idea on the school system of the United Kingdom and the differences in learning and support students receive compared to my home country. Also being a Student Ambassador pushed me out of my comfort zone to engage with people by making the first step and being welcoming to people who are keen to learn from my personal experience with the university.

Would you recommend the Student Ambassador programme to other students? 
I would recommend anyone who wants to earn some extra money and be flexible in their work to apply as an ambassador as it allows you to balance study and work. The diverse jobs I was able to undertake  has helped me to develop a wider range of experience than in just one fixed job. Within three years I was able to become a Team Leader, managing other Student Ambassadors at campus events enabling me to gain leadership skills. 

Dan South – championing healthier, more active communities

Dan South, Solent University studentDuring his time at the University, Dan undertook a work based project aimed at championing healthier and more active communities.

Tell us about yourself, what course did you study?
I have recently graduated from the Applied Human Nutrition course at Solent. I have a real passion for food and the human body and the relationships between them and how this relates to our health, both physically and mentally. I keep myself as active as possible by playing sports (mainly football and basketball) and go to the gym (fairly regularly!). I am also a keen cook, always searching for and cooking new recipes to try on housemates and family.

What have enjoyed about studying in Southampton?
Southampton is a city that is perfect for students. It has lots of green open spaces so that I could study with a change of scenery every once in a while. There is a huge selection of venues for nights out and all a short distance from halls and shared houses. You can walk everywhere. The University is in the centre of town and honestly, I was blown away with the facilities on offer. 

Tell us about your work based project. What does this involve?
My project involved a lot of work with the community and members of staff at the university, providing cook and eat sessions featuring healthy recipes. Alongside the University’s Project Officer I emphasised the importance of nutrition for daily life. I provided free body MOT’s for people that measured health markers and explained what the measurements mean and compared them to evidence-based recommendations. I offered nutritional consultations alongside this, giving a fairly detailed overview of their macronutrient status as well as any important minerals, vitamins, micronutrients.

Tell us a bit about some of the projects you’ve worked on.
I had the amazing opportunity to work alongside Southampton FC on the project “Are you as fit as a Saint?” which involved providing body MOT’s outside St. Mary’s stadium to fans before kick-off and comparing the results to an average of the Saints first team. The local community has been a large part of our cook and eat sessions delivered on campus, with participant including members of an elite diving group as well as young carers.

How has this experience supported you? 
My CV is supported through the experience I gained in communicating with diverse groups of people. It has also helped me with my confidence that I was able to sharpen my presentation skills, my listening and ability to explain cooking skills to people from different age groups. The experience has also allowed me to express myself and develop my own style, giving me an opportunity to work in groups and establish professional relationships that lead to other opportunities as well as friendships.

Would you recommend a work based project to other students?
I would definitely recommend a work-based project for anyone that is considering it. It has strengthened my CV immensely and helped secure interviews as well as providing some experience into what a typical working day would be like in the industry. The relationships that I built professionally were extremely helpful in my development as an individual, both academically and personally.

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