Thursday 06-11-2014 - 16:49
Gina Connelly is University of Plymouth Students’ Union first woman CEO, under her leadership the union has gone from strength to strength; her approachable yet resolute style has won her many plaudits across the movement from both staff and students. NUS Connect interviewed Gina to find out the secrets behind her success.
What are Plymouth’s most impressive statistics?
UPSU is in the top 20 SUs in the country for our NSS score this year and we are also the top seller for NUS extra cards which ensures a lot of our students always get value for money. We have the Investors in Volunteers accreditation and this year we were also awarded the Investors in People Gold Award which we are very proud of as only a few SUs have achieved this. We also were awarded the Green Impact Excellence Outstanding award for our Wild Patch Project in local schools.
We understand that you started at Plymouth as a financial assistant, what was your journey to the top?
I started at UPSU in 1997 as a part time, term time Finance Cashier as the hours suited my home life at that time. I really enjoy the vibrancy of working in a students’ union and through support of the General Manager at that time and great succession planning I gradually increased my hours and levels of responsibility over the years and worked my way up through the organisation. It was particularly hard during the five years I spent studying for my accountancy exams whilst still working and also with a young family but my determination has paid off and it has helped that I have always loved my job!
I am a keen advocate of self-development and have always invested my own time to learn and develop which has certainly helped me progress. UPSU has been fantastic over the years and always supported me with my learning and development.
What do you think have been your greatest achievements to date?
My greatest achievement I would say is becoming a CEO of a large successful Students’ union after leaving school at 16 without any A levels or a degree and achieving this whilst having three children, one of whom is disabled. Five years ago I also became a Chartered Manager which was also a proud moment and a great achievement for me.
What would you do differently?
I don’t think I would change anything in the career as I loved my early career in a banking although now I know the value of a degree and what fun students have I may well have chosen to go to university.
What advice would you have for somebody just starting a career in the student movement?
My advice would be to undertake every opportunity for training and personal development and also networking within the students’ union movement, be a sponge and soak in everything you can.
You’ve just finished your Welcome Week. How did it go?
We had such a great Welcome Week this year as we have just had a major refurbishment which the students absolutely loved. We delivered a wide variety of diverse events, many which we were able to hold outside as the weather was so lovely here, financially it was a success too which was an added bonus.
What are your key challenges for the year ahead?
Last year we undertook a full governance and constitution review which we are embedding this year and includes significant changes to our democratic structures and processes. This will be undertaken this year at the same time as the renewal of our Strategic Plan with the aim of having a new plan from September 2015, so quite a lot of really important work ahead of us this year. Luckily, we have great, engaged staff and excellent officers so we are confident it will all be achieved.
What does NUS mean to you?
NUS is a great source of knowledge and support and I firmly believe the more engaged you are as an individual and also as a union the more you get back. They are the national collective voice of students which is powerful and proven through some successful recent campaigns. They also provide valuable guidance, resources and training which are very useful but I also feel that many do not make full use of. I have always tried to support others in the movement and NUS and engage wherever I can, my role as Chair of the Finance Group for many years helped with my networking within NUS and other unions.
How do you ensure you stay in touch with students issues?
I always try to engage and speak with our students at every opportunity and attend training and events whenever I can. I have a great working relationship with our officers and also try to get to know the members of our Union Executive Committee and student staff where I can. All of my own children are or have been to university so I do get the opportunity first hand to be in touch with the issues that students face today.
What are your top tips for managing a healthy work life balance?
Ooh that’s a difficult one as the last year has been so busy that it has gone by the wayside slightly! However, I try not to work at the weekend and enjoy time off with my family and friends although if there is a key event on or an open day I do like to pop in. I do encourage all of our staff to have a healthy work life balance and really need to be more of a role model!