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Recipe for success nourishes the student experience during the pandemic

20/04/2021

A group of University of Wolverhampton Academic Coaches will be presenting at a national conference – showing peers how their recipe for success nourished the student experience during the pandemic. 

Academic Coaches act as personal tutors to degree students, providing academic support and pastoral care to improve engagement and facilitate independent learning whilst enabling students to gain transferrable skills for future employment. 

The Coaches have been invited to speak at the GLAD national academic conference. GLAD (The Group for Learning in Art and Design) was established in 1990 and is a non-affiliated group of academics advocating Art, Design and Media from across higher education institutions.  

The GLAD Conference is taking place virtually on Friday 23rd April with this year’s themes – Responding-Reframing-Rethinking – acknowledging the work done by staff and students, across the sector, to deal with and go beyond the limitations imposed by the pandemic. 

Academic Coaches at the University introduced a monthly cross-faculty ‘Coaches, Cooking and Conversation’ in 2019, following their week-long residency in the School of Art’s studios - creating a dinner table in a studio environment to encourage a transfer of knowledge while cooking and enjoying food. The Coaches’ Kitchen concept was moved online during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

At the conference, the Academic Coaches will re-enact a year of activity live from their kitchens. Whilst making vegan pancakes they will deliver a performance of Coaches’ Kitchen - a scripted dialogue based on real-life conversations which mirror the hybrid of informal socialising and impromptu academic and pastoral reassurance. They will share lessons learnt; about the students, about their roles and about themselves.  

Sarah Byrne, Academic Coach in the University’s Faculty of Art, Business and Social Sciences, said: “Mimicking a dinner table in the studio environment, we encouraged a transfer of knowledge through discussions around varying specialisms and subject areas. We established space for pondering, chatter, and absurdity, a comfortable environment where people were enticed by smells and held by intrigue. Our chatter and music travelled the studios. The smells of our cooking began to waft. More people joined us and Coaches’ Kitchen was born."  

Following the residency, the Academic Coaches established a monthly Coaches’ Kitchen in the Chaplaincy building. Sarah said: “We cooked a lot of soup, fed a lot of students, fought over board games, and gathered around the piano. Our physical meetings were held at the University’s Chaplaincy until Covid-19 closed our kitchen, and we were forced to cease face to face contact due to lockdown restrictions being imposed.”   

Academic Coaches moved Coaches’ Kitchen online from April 2020 and developed a weekly programme of interactive events to support students who were self-isolating and living under lockdown restrictions.   

Holly Herzberg, Academic Coach in the Faculty of Science and Engineering, said: “It was more important than ever to create a supportive environment where we were all united in the confusion, the chaos, and bizarreness of lockdown life. Staff and students talk about what they have been baking and shared progress on the plants we have been nurturing or murdering. We chat about TV shows and argue over ways to eat a KitKat. The weeks and months progressed and today Coaches’ Kitchen still brings socialising and laughter to our students’ homes. 

“We have all kinds of students attending our events. Our regular ‘Kitcheners’ range from Arts students to Law students, all studying at different levels. Some have a favourite activity that they attend, others join us for everything. Friendships have formed within the virtual walls of our ‘communal’ kitchen space. Students offer each other support and messages of positivity. These online spaces have allowed us to realise “new forms of belonging” where students continue the conversations after hours and swap contact details. They discuss how nice it is to feel they have a “’room’ to go to at Uni”. One of our students commented “it is just like being with your friends and has definitely helped us to feel like part of a social group and combat loneliness!”. 

Sarah Zacharek, Academic Coach in the Faculty of Science and Engineering, said: “It’s amazing to have been accepted to talk about Coaches’ Kitchen at our 2nd academic conference. We see this as an ideal opportunity to publicise current and future Academic Coaches’ activity in supporting recruitment, transition and inclusion.  

“We have ambitious plans to grow Coaches’ Kitchen in the coming years, which includes publication of a Coaches’ Kitchen recipe book, a space to grow our own food and outreach with schools and colleges.  

Coaches’ Kitchen has become the highlight of our working week. It allows us to stay connected to our students in a fun and informal way and has a positive impact on our own wellbeing. We encourage staff to get involved in these activities too, it’s so nice to have some company and laughter in the middle of the working day.” 

Anyone interested in studying at the University of Wolverhampton should register for one of the University’s forthcoming Virtual Open Days. 

ENDS 

For more information please contact the Corporate Communications Team.

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