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Georgina Harris: BWIE Women to Watch interview

Georgina and Dilshad

Having had two of Arden University’s Deans of Faculty named on Business Women in Education’s inaugural Women to Watch 2022 list, we caught up with Professor Georgina Harris, Dean of the Faculty of Stem and Professor Dilshad Sheikh, Dean of the Faculty of Business. 

Georgina, who has had an inspirational and fascinating career so far, having combined industry and academia throughout, told us about her work in establishing the newly formed Faculty of Stem from the ground up, the importance of making higher education accessible, and the importance of celebrating successes. 

How do you feel to be nominated by Business Women in Education as a Woman to Watch?

I'm absolutely thrilled to have been nominated as a Woman to Watch. It's an absolute surprise that I was nominated and it's lovely to feel that people have actually recognised the work that you do and that people are actually being showcased for the work that they do in higher education. 

HE is sometimes an underrepresented area in terms of accolades and people knowing the wonderful things that you're doing. So, it's lovely to say that this is happening and I'm just delighted to be in such amazing company.

How long have you been at Arden and what is your role?

I joined Arden University in October last year as the Dean of STEM. My role here was to set up a faculty completely from scratch which is a phenomenal opportunity. It was so exciting. When I was offered the role I felt “Good grief, I really want to be able to do that.” 

The aim of the faculty is to focus on STEM discipline subjects, of course, but focusing on industry and business type roles, rather than perhaps the more academic or theoretical end of the STEM disciplines. We're looking at trying to give people the education, the training, and the skills they need to go and do jobs in the real world, delivering new technologies, new engineering solutions, problem solving, and making the world a better place for everyone else. 

At the moment, we have three schools, but we may well be growing again. We have a school of engineering, a school of computing, and a school of design and creativity. But we’re always keeping our eyes open for the next opportunity and the next area we can branch into.

What do you love most about working in higher education?

I love the students I work with in higher education. They help you feel challenged. They're always asking very clever questions that you hadn't thought about yourself, and they keep you on your toes. Some of the creative ideas they come out with are astonishing. I absolutely adore being beaten by the students. You really feel that you've made it when the students have come up with something that you didn't spot yourself. 

Who or what inspires you?

I work in STEM – a discipline that never stays still. I'm never doing the same job twice, and that's a lovely thing. We're always looking for new technologies, we're always looking for new skills, new opportunities for our students. And the fact that you are educating students who will be doing jobs that haven't even been invented yet. We haven't heard of them yet. I think one of the most recent items I read was suggesting that kids in school now could potentially be the first Martians – the first people who actually visit Mars – and you start thinking about that, and you get very excited about your role and how important technologies are to achieving that the idea that these young people are going to have these amazing opportunities that weren't available when I was young.

Why is it so important to celebrate the success of women in higher education?

Traditionally, it's not necessarily been that easy for women to progress in areas of higher education management. It's really important that we have equality and diversity in our senior management as a university, as we're here to effectively echo our student body. 

That means it's incredibly important that we recognise and celebrate the work that women do in higher education. I think a lot of the time, women in higher education tend to take on the roles that are more caring, more nurturing, alongside all of their other roles. And I think it's wonderful that there's an opportunity for them to be recognised and to celebrate the work that they do. And to do it in an arena where everybody is celebrating together. I think that's lovely.

Click above to view a video featuring Professor Georgina Harris and Professor Dilshad Sheikh discussing their inclusion on BWIE's Women to Watch list. 

Why do you believe making higher education more accessible is so important?

I believe in social mobility, and I believe it's incredibly important to be able to give the next generation better opportunities than my generation had. 

It's vitally important that young people get the opportunity to gain those skills, the education, and the opportunities that that affords. And it's incredibly important that young people have the access to that education in a mechanism that allows them to make the most of it. 

With traditional universities, typically students are moving to an area, they're settling in around an area for a particular university. Our university, at Arden, is different in that we come to you. There's a local Learning Centre near you and you can fit your life around your degree. That's a really important opportunity for young people to be able to recognise that, while they may not have been able to engage with a traditional university environment, they really do have the opportunity to take that step with Arden. So for me, absolutely, access to higher education should be as broad as we can possibly make it.

What sort of opportunities do you try and make sure our students are exposed to?

We try to ensure that Arden students have the opportunities to do live projects, work with industry, engage with activities outside of the university and bring them into the curriculum, giving students the opportunity to experience what it is to be a computer specialist, to be an engineer, to be a graphic designer, whilst you're in the safe, nurturing environment of the university.

It gives students that opportunity to build their confidence, so that when they're going for interviews they have a portfolio of work they can show and they have the confidence to walk in there and say: “This is my job. I can do this. I know what I'm doing.”

What does Arden do differently to traditional universities?

Our faculty is concentrating on STEM within the context of business and industry, which is not necessarily the thing that every university is delivering. 

We're also doing that within the local context. So if you're a student based in Birmingham, you’ll be focusing on project work on materials that relate to the industries in the Birmingham area. This is clearly going to be more beneficial for those students, then a general project from anywhere in the country. It's important that we give people the opportunities in their local context, give them experience of the types of roles that are in the area around them.

How do you try it and help/ inspire other women in education?

I've spent a great deal of my time mentoring other academics, particularly other women. It's really important that people feel that they are part of a group working to make the best we can do for our students. 

It's fairly common for women to feel like outsiders, or to feel that they don't belong. That makes it really important as a female, senior academic, to ensure that those new female academics joining us in academia know that this is the place for them. They are needed, they are wanted, and we’ll give them all the support and help that they need to be the best that they can be in the role. 

I was very lucky to have mentoring and support from senior academics when I was coming through the ranks. So now it's my role to make sure that the next generation coming in get that from me.

To view BWIE's Women to Watch list in full click here, and to see how an Arden University degree could help you achieve what you were Born to Do, visit our course pages