28 Nov 2023

Interview with Megan McClellan, formerly City of Glasgow College Students’ Association

In this interview, we talk to Megan McClellan, former President and Vice-President (Learning and Teaching) at City of Glasgow College Students’ Association. Since the summer of 2023, following her sabbatical terms, Megan has been Policy and Public Affairs Officer for Who Cares? Scotland. In October 2023 she won the Outstanding Academic Representative award at the sparqs’ Student Engagement Awards.

1. Congratulation on your award! Your nomination described you as “a fierce advocate for students”, something that Sir Andrew Cubie highlighted at our awards ceremony when revealing you had won. It was also a good night for City of Glasgow College and CitySA in other categories that evening. Tell us how it felt on the night to have won.

Thank you- it felt like a real full circle moment! At the beginning of my role as Vice President of Learning and Teaching I’d had a big conversation with my co-ordinator in which I said I didn’t think I would be good at the job. To have even been shortlisted for an award for Outstanding Academic Representative was something that meant a lot to me, and it was really touching to be able to share that moment with some of the people who really championed me.

2. You were also described in your nomination as having “a genuine passion for education and the way in which learning can transform lives”. How would you describe that passion, and can you tell us a bit about how your own journey in education informed that passion?

I think that passion developed when I started to understand that the challenging experiences I faced throughout my own journey were also happening to an increasing number of other students across the country. I had to drop out of university twice because there were too many obstacles: I was struggling financially, I didn’t have a secure living situation, and I didn’t understand what type of support I really needed. Had I not been lucky enough to try education for a third time at the college, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I think the way education transforms your life happens in a variety of ways and doesn’t necessarily have to be a big scale transformation. The most impactful thing it did for me was give me a safe space to learn by making mistakes, which was something I found really challenging before my course; I was really afraid of failing at something I was passionate about.

I learned a lot from my course in a practical sense, but I was also given support to learn about myself and develop a sense of identity. Education can be an empowering tool and it shapes the way we process the world around us.

The passion is about wanting everyone to be able to access opportunities to learn and grow when and if they’re ready for it. People go in and out of education at different ages and different stages, and we should have an education system that nurtures lifelong, accessible learning rather than one where people are falling through the gaps due to unnecessary barriers.

3. At college, what got you into student representation and the idea of involvement in the students’ association?

Neither were things I got involved in knowingly! I became a class representative without really understanding what the role was, and slowly became more involved in the students’ association through training and different class rep meetings. The main reason I stood for election for the Vice President role was because it was a paid position that seemed like it could be a good opportunity to learn something new.

I was lucky that my team were able to attend different training and events with other student officers through organisations like sparqs and NUS, which helped me learn about wider student movements. By the time I stood for election for the Student President role, I’d become really passionate about ensuring that students knew how powerful their voice could be and ensuring that there were opportunities for collective action.

There’s a lot of passion and energy in the student community, and student representative roles are an exciting way to learn how to channel those into tangible change.

4. Your nomination pointed towards a video from earlier in 2023, while you were still President, in which you gave a fantastic rapid-fire outline of the many different activities you were involved in or leading at the time. What were the standout projects you were a part of as a sabbatical at City?

I think the videos and photos were my least favourite part of the job. I have a rule to never rewatch or look at them, which is also probably part of why it’s rapid-fire! There were so many aspects of the role I really enjoyed but the two projects which stand out the most for me are the strategic plan, and the student and staff awards.

The student and staff awards are, by far, my favourite students’ association event. It comes at a time of year where stress can run very high and it can be easy to become a little jaded, so having an event that celebrates the successes and recognition of students and staff is a nice reminder of the reason everyone is really there. I’m also a big sop, so I was always very moved by the nominations that were sent in and I loved being able to create an environment where people could take a moment to reflect and celebrate themselves.

In terms of the strategic plan, I think it’s very fair to say that I’m a massive geek when it comes to things that involve any sort of feedback data and consultations, so co-leading on a project like a five-year plan was very much the perfect piece of work. It involved a lot of consultation with both students and staff, and we made a big effort to really build on what work we had done previously. There’s never enough time to do everything you want as a sabbatical officer, so the strategic plan was also a nice way of cementing the improvements we wanted to make for students in a way that felt meaningful and relevant.

5. And tell us a bit about your new job at Who Cares? Scotland – and how much do you think your work as a student rep gave you insights, skills and experiences that help you in your current work?

So much of my experience as a student rep lends itself nicely to my current role and I would say that most of the skills I learned are things I use on a day-to-day basis. The role of a student rep is very varied, and I’ve always been a big believer that the more you give to the role, the more you get out of it and that’s certainly the case with working in a students’ association.

I learned a lot of useful skills, like project planning, event planning, report writing, and training development, which have allowed me to get my bearings with my new role. Working with NUS and sparqs helped build my understanding and capacity to gather feedback and turn that into a variety of ways to make change, whether it be a board paper or letter to government, or a full campaign. I was able to build an understanding of how policy and legislation shape different systems and realise the impact that inconsistent implementation of policies has on the people the policies are meant to support.

I’m lucky to be able to work with Who Cares? Scotland as a Policy and Public Affairs Officer. Who Cares? Scotland are a wonderful (and the only) national membership organisation for Care Experienced people in Scotland. A lot of the work they do involves ensuring that there are opportunities for their members to connect and engage in belonging activities, as well as ensuring that members’ voices are heard, which is something I’m passionate about.

We’re currently undertaking a lot of work related to campaigning for lifelong rights for Care Experienced people, which involves consultations with members, report writing, and lobbying. We’re also involved in other projects, like delivering an Empowered Voices Training programme, which directly support members to become more confident in using their voice to create change and build community with other people who have a similar experience.

I’m grateful to have gone into a role that feels like an extension of my experience in the students’ association, and I’m excited to continue learning and growing alongside my team.

.

Thanks to Megan for being an interviewee. To suggest a future subject for interview, please contact us.

This interview is part of a series of occasional interviews on our website with student engagement practitioners – both staff and students, and from within Scotland’s university and college sector and beyond. The interviews aim to capture the different perspectives that people have on student engagement in the quality of learning.

Headlines Archive:

Student Engagement Framework

National Education Officers' Network meeting

21 Mar 2024

This meeting of sparqs’ National Education Officers’ Network (NEON) continues our series of meetings for academic year 2023-24. …

Read more...

Student Engagement Staff Network meeting

19 Mar 2024

This meeting of our Student Engagement Staff Network (SESN) for academic year 2023-24 continues our series of half-day events for…

Read more...