Ali Lyons, Outreach Evaluation and Research Manager, Outreach

Ali Lyons

In a nutshell, I work to help students from any background to be able to go to university”

When answering the question “What do you do?”, for some the job title is the explanation. My role is less obvious, so I often reply, “How much time do you have?”.

In a nutshell, I work to help students from any background to be able to go to university. But if you’re not careful, I’ll talk your ear off for hours about the different ways that we might define who is underrepresented at university, what role universities have in supporting students, and the many policy areas that impact access to education.

Working in widening participation has been a natural fit for me, despite the fact that when I interviewed for my first role in this field, I had never heard the term! It came as no surprise to me that some students are shut-out, alienated, or face extra hurdles in their educational journeys, but I just hadn’t had the language to describe this idea.

Over time, I have shifted from organising outreach events and travelling to visit schools, to stepping back to focus on evaluation and the big picture. In my current role with Imperial’s Outreach team, I manage the evaluation that helps us understand our programmes. This means I get to ask big questions like, ‘Is this programme helping students feel they belong in STEM spaces?’, ‘Which has greater impact, in-person or virtual tutoring?’, and most recently ‘How can we connect the dots between support for potential university students, and support once they start their degree?’.

To help answer this question, I wanted to look outside of the UK context. I was thrilled to receive a Churchill Fellowship to travel to the US and New Zealand, where I will visit programmes with novel approaches to supporting underrepresented students into, and through university. I can’t wait to speak to students and staff on these programmes to understand first-hand the impact of their approaches. I’ll be looking for what we can learn from a new perspective on old challenges, aiming to inform our strategy for transition support within Imperial, and the wider UK higher education sector.

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