Development & Alumni Relations Office 

IN CONVERSATION WITH QUEEN’S ALUMNI IN THE USA  Lanyon Building, Queen's University Belfast

06 July 2020

Pro Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Politics, Richard English joined Isabel Jennings, Director of Marketing, Recruitment, Communications and Internationalisation, for an hour session chaired by Director of Development and Alumni Relations, Nathalie Trott on Wednesday 1 July.

The webinar gave the University’s graduates in the US first-hand insights into the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the subsequent lockdown on Queen's. It also enabled alumni to find out exactly how individual researchers – and the broader University community – have responded to the pandemic, and what the future might look like for Queen’s.

Following a welcome from Nathalie Trott, Professor English spoke about the challenges facing the University – its students and staff – which he explained included safety and welfare, travel and quarantine issues, financial concerns and the degree to which teaching and research may change in the future, post coronavirus.

Response to COVID-19

Professor English highlighted Queen’s resilient response to COVID-19 and outlined how the University has taken a lead role in the research on antibodies in children and the diagnostic testing being carried out in Northern Ireland.

He spoke about the successful 3D printing of PPE equipment early in the pandemic and how Queen's had offered a new postgraduate certificate in software development for those whose jobs had been impacted by the pandemic. 

Professor English also spoke about the extensive online resources – webinars and podcasts – now available. “One of the strengths of our response will probably turn out to be that we have greater capacity for online activity and international events to engage with Queen’s in ways which are emancipating and which complement the face-to-face work we will be moving back to in the autumn,” he said.

Looking beyond COVID-19, Professor English described how Queen’s would be adopting a ‘connected learning’ approach – a blend of face-to-face and digital teaching – once the campus reopens on 21st September

Addressing the audience specifically Professor English highlighted ways in which alumni based in the US could support the University:     

  • USA as an important part of Queen’s work
  • Partnerships with US universities
  • Co-hosted events in the US/Belfast
  • Collaborative research
  • Student visits in both directions
  • Greater visibility of Queen’s in US

Queen’s US strategy

Isabel Jennings outlined a number of research collaborations, the need to deliver compelling student propositions capable of driving growth in market share and educational contributions becoming more visible and influential in the US.

She shared Queen’s US Strategy – where we started from a few years ago to where we are now – and our ambitious future targets, as well as how the support of our alumni could help Queen’s to achieve its goals.

Touching on global student mobility, Isabel Jennings explained that students from the US were Queen’s 4th largest international cohort. Referring to a recent international survey which had been completed by 10,000 students, she described how only 6% of those students had decided not to study overseas due to COVID-19, indicating a continuing demand to travel.

“One of the most important things that alumni have helped us with is offer holder reassurance sessions – virtual events – that have been heavily supported by alumni and that’s made a vast difference.”

In addressing the University’s aspiration to move up the Global Standings, she explained that the advocacy of graduates – in support of our reputation – in the US was hugely important in assisting with this ambition.

Isabel asked guests who might be in a position to assist through their own networks to promote Queen’s to US High Schools to get in touch.

Questions from the audience

The second half of the webinar was dedicated to questions from the online audience. The engaging Q&A highlighted the importance of sharing alumni knowledge and expertise.

Among the topics addressed were academic freedom and openness of debate and the level of awareness of Queen’s, Belfast and Northern Ireland.

One questioner asked if it might be possible to include online elements in US courses in partner institutions to raise visibility of Queen's as a destination of choice, a suggestion welcomed by Professor English.        

Asked about links with US institutions, Professor English explained the background to the University’s US strategy, which stemmed from existing connections with individual academics in individual institutions. “We hope it will continue to grow, we are not saying that other institutions are not equally precious to us but we have tried to concentrate resources and to look at those where we had academic connections and where we could grow organically and be as strong as possible.”  

“Connecting with High Schools,” added Isabel Jennings, “is something we only recently trialled. Every one of the High Schools we are talking to came about through a personal academic or alumni connection. While the numbers are small, California is the state where we have the highest traction, with New York and New Jersey on the East Coast also represented. It’s not just about access though; we want to give students who want to come to Queen’s the best possible experience.  

Other questions focused on the University’s Strategic Plan, how to donate to COVID-19 research at Queen’s and the possibility of supporting a careers mentoring network.

As always, we would love to hear your feedback! Please let us know if you have any comments or questions about the online webinar or the issues highlighted in this news story by emailing Julie Garrett and we will get back to you.

In Conversation – Queen’s after COVID-19 can be viewed in full on YouTube.

For general enquiries about this story, or to submit a graduate news item, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen’s University Belfast. 

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