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The Active Travel Academy: Leading the field with an active approach to transport planning

CRISPR technology: Student success stories from our Genome Engineering Lab

Westminster Working Cultures: Our alumni host students in ultra-modern Dubai



Thank you


ear friends of Westminster, we are delighted to share with you this year’s edition of Impact – our annual publication which showcases and celebrates the range of projects we’ve been able to deliver, thanks to your generosity. Without your support, we wouldn’t be able to transform the lives of the many students featured in this issue. You have all given back to our student community in amazing ways; from providing financial support to the students who need it most, to sharing your time and expertise to guide our students in the right direction towards their chosen career path. In this edition, Jessica, who is estranged from her family, explains how an accommodation scholarship from The Howard de Walden Estate has significantly reduced her anxiety and increased her confidence that she will achieve the best possible results in her final year. We also celebrate ten years of support from Santander who, most recently, have helped us to provide almost 100 laptops for some of our most vulnerable students, to enable them to learn remotely while we deliver all our teaching online in the wake of COVID-19. Also in this edition, alumnus Rehan Khan tells us about his experience

meeting the inaugural group of Westminster Working Cultures students on their visit to Dubai, and shares his intriguing thoughts on why students shouldn’t follow their passion. Closer to home, we visit our very own Mentoring Team, who impressively match over 500 relationships annually through our award-winning Career Mentoring Scheme. We hear their thoughts on what makes the perfect mentor and why we need more support than ever before. You can also meet Professor Rachel Aldred, who shares the impressive work being produced by the Active Travel Academy. Her projects delve into the global problems caused by our car-dominated transport systems, and explore just how impactful more ‘active’ forms of transport and ‘micro-mobilities’ can be in tackling environmental and social issues. We hope the stories you read reinforce just how much of a difference your support makes to so many of our deserving students and local communities. A heartfelt thanks for your continued support. Jordan Scammell Head of Development Laura Hughes Alumni Relations Lead

To donate a gift to the University of Westminster, please visit: westminster.ac.uk/support-us

IMPACT Issue No 4 2020 Editor Jenny Stubberfield Contributors Alyssa Martin and Jordan Scammell Development and Alumni Relations University of Westminster, 32–38 Wells Street, London W1T 3UW T: +44 (0)20 3506 6245 E: development@westminster.ac.uk

A charity and a company limited by guarantee Registration number: 977818 Registered office: 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2UW Thank you to all staff, students and supporters who have contributed to this issue. Illustration: Soleil420, Getty. 9034/03.20/CH/GP


Contents 4

Woman on emissions


An iconic space for innovation

Professor Rachel Aldred and the Active Travel Academy are challenging the global problems caused by car-dominated transport systems

Introducing 29 Marylebone Road

Broadening horizons 10 in the UAE

Alumnus Rehan Khan speaks to students as part of Westminster Working Cultures

Celebrating Santander for the ten years it has supported our students

into the wonders of plant compounds


A decade of investing 12 in student enterprise

Funding PhD opportuni-teas 13 Pukka Herbs is supporting PhD research The formula for student success 14 CRISPR technology is giving Westminster


students the edge

Helping estranged 16 students excel

The Howard de Walden Estate is covering the cost of accommodation for estranged students

We ask our Mentoring Team

the many ways you can give back to Westminster

The matchmakers 18 What makes the perfect match?

Giving back as a recent grad 20 Alumnus Jon Woodburn demonstrates


The Professor Geoffrey Petts 21 Research Fund

A new fund has been established in memory of our former Vice-Chancellor and President

a gift in his will to Westminster students

My life and legacy 22 Alumnus Peter Gordon on why he’s leaving



Woman on emissions | IMPACT








Woman on emissions Professor Rachel Aldred, Professor of Transport, is Director of the Active Travel Academy (ATA), a think-tank of interdisciplinary research dedicated to facilitating active forms of transport and reducing car use in the UK.


he research, which has a focus on walking and cycling as well as the use of ‘micro-mobilities’, such as electric bikes and e-scooters, aims to address a multitude of social and environmental issues, including climate change, air pollution, the inactivity pandemic, as well as road injuries and deaths. The Academy is funded over a three-year period by a substantial investment of £582,000 from the Quintin Hogg Trust (QHT), and since its launch last summer, Rachel and her team have been making strides in tackling the global problems caused by our car-dominated transport systems. “Active travel is an area whose time has come,” says Rachel. “With the climate crisis, the growing awareness of health burdens and chronic diseases due to physical inactivity, the amount of air pollution – there’s a whole range of reasons why it’s gaining policy interest. “I’m a sociologist, not a transport engineer – I know nothing about concrete – but it struck me looking at

this area how important a social science perspective really is. We know what kind of environments people like and we know that they don’t like cycling on dangerous roads. This is not an engineering issue or a knowledge problem about what to build. It’s a problem about getting it built, which to me is a sociological problem. Why are these things not happening? Why isn’t policy changing? Why is public opinion as it is? This is what we need to address.” A collaborative effort The Academy pools expertise from across the University and beyond, combining transport and urban studies with disciplines including architecture, sociology, politics, media and health and well-being. “Really, I think transport has to be an interdisciplinary field because it touches all areas of our life,” explains Rachel. “For example, the health experts have really come in and shaken up the field, as they just don’t have the same preoccupations as transport specialists

traditionally do. They don’t care about reducing journey time by 30 seconds, but question why people are sitting inside their cars, exposed to air pollution, as opposed to walking to work and keeping fit.” Assessing health risks is one of the central goals of the Academy, from looking at injury risk to exposure to pollution and the less immediately obvious problems which result from a lack of exercise. “The way in which our towns and cities have been planned means that exercise has been designed out of our everyday lives,” Rachel explains. “So, we can give lip service to ‘you should walk’ or ‘you should cycle,’ but if you look at the system, the message that is actually being given out is ‘you should be driving.’ “As a cyclist you have to mix with buses and HGVs, and have to fight for your space on the road; and as a pedestrian you have to press beg buttons and stand and wait for traffic to stop – this all creates this disincentive to


IMPACT | Woman on emissions

use active forms of transport and an incentive to drive.” The ATA believes that this shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be the case. Through their research they endeavour to collect the evidence required to justify new policies, which when implemented, will see safer environments that people will want to walk or cycle in. “If we look at the Netherlands,” Rachel says, “half of children cycle to school. The figure here is about two per cent. It’s not that children in the Netherlands all love cycling and children here don’t, it’s the fact that in the Netherlands, they’ve managed to create an environment where it’s completely safe and natural for children to cycle to school. In the UK, many parents simply won’t let their children because the streets are just too unpleasant and too dangerous for them.” Speed funding The ATA’s extensive and varied research into areas of urban design, road safety, health and well-being, traffic control and much more, has all been made possible thanks to a generous investment from the Quintin Hogg Trust. The QHT was set up in memory of the University’s founder, and for over a century the charity has been supporting the advancement of education at Westminster by funding projects proposed by staff and students. “I’ve been working around active travel myself since 2008, doing a number of small-to-medium funded projects,” says Rachel. “But the QHT funding has enabled me to really scale it up and expand the network; it’s gone from largely just being me, to a proper academy of practitioners, all working in different areas. We can host events – such as the Active Travel Media Awards – put together new research ideas and are able to give people a bit of seed funding to develop their ideas. Suddenly we’re on a whole new footing.” Thanks to the funding from the QHT, the Academy has also been able to

appoint three new PhD studentships, focusing on micro-mobilities, small active travel interventions and interactions between road users and how these are perceived.

and from the health perspective of having more active travel, but there are just so many barriers in our built environment,” he says. “I spend a couple of hours a day on my bike, so personally,

THE WAY IN WHICH OUR TOWNS AND CITIES HAVE BEEN PLANNED MEANS THAT EXERCISE HAS BEEN DESIGNED OUT OF OUR EVERYDAY LIVES One of the newly appointed PhD students, Asa Thomas (MPhil Transport, 2024), is researching the effects of traffic restrictions on school streets and seeing if they encourage more parents and children to travel to school using active forms of transport. “We know the benefits from the climate perspective

I understand that we have so far to go. There are questions we need answered rapidly, and right now we don’t have the strong evidence base that’s required to make new policies, but it’s really exciting to be working towards that.” Another of the PhD students, Lorna Stevenson (MPhil Transport, 2024),

Woman on emissions | IMPACT

is looking at how micro-mobilities are fitting into the transport ecosystem. “Micro-mobilities are generally docked and dockless bike shares and e-scooter hires,” she explains. “From an active travel point of view, it’s great to see people out of their cars and on an e-bike, but if actually what we’re seeing is people choosing not to walk and instead take a passive mode of travel like an e-scooter, which has a more negative environmental impact than walking and with less health benefits, then it might not be so good. We also need to consider how we can regulate and make policy around these new travel options, to maximise the benefits and minimise the negative effects. “Rachel’s reputation was a big draw to this PhD: the work she does, looking at transport from a sociological perspective and thinking about how people use transport, instead of treating it as an engineering problem and asking what our maximum traffic input is,” says Lorna. “With her research and reputation, and the really interesting group of people she’s managed to pull together through the ATA, both in terms of the permanent staff and the visiting fellows we’ve got coming in, it just feels like the place to be if you want to take a person-centred approach to active transport.”

Bike to the future With so much ground to cover, the staff and students of the ATA are conducting multiple research investigations simultaneously. One study which Rachel and her team have completed since the launch of the Academy is an impact study on near misses. “I wanted to record the rate of near misses to see how many cyclists experience them on a weekly or yearly basis,” she says. “Thanks to the money from the QHT to fund the hardware, our colleagues in computing fitted a Brompton bike with sensors for us, which can measure the distance that drivers give when they’re overtaking. “The data shows that a regular commuter might be killed just once every 8,000 years, which is reassuring. But I found that on a weekly basis, people are having very scary incidents. This suggests there is an impasse in the field – where on the one hand, people are looking at the injury stats and saying ‘death rates are low so it’s pretty safe,’ and on the other hand the general public are saying ‘I nearly got hit, it’s terrifying, I’m not cycling again.’ So, by measuring these near misses and understanding how often people might be overtaken with just a 50cm gap, we can explain why people find cycling frightening and would opt for other forms of transport.”


Everything the ATA are working towards is contributing to a healthier, safer future, with fewer cars on the roads and less pollution on our planet. It’s not an easy road ahead, but Rachel remains positive that the public will embrace the changes for the greater good. “To reduce the priority, space and time given to car use is really difficult, because we’re undoing decades of transport planning. But, as people say, ‘Amsterdam wasn’t always Amsterdam’ – in the 1950s and ‘60s they built over the canals to make big roads, and later had to undo it all. The same is true for us, because we know that building for more cars is just going to get us more congestion, pollution and climate change. “London has already seen a shift; in two decades we’ve gone from about 52 per cent of trips made by car to around 38 per cent. Public transport has overtaken the private car as the majority mode of transport, which is a really positive sign. “Policymakers are worried that change will be unpopular, but you often find that when changes have been made and neighbourhoods have been calmed, motor traffic has been reduced and cycle tracks have been improved, you don’t see the public clamouring for it to be changed back. People will come to accept and like the way it is.”


IMPACT | An iconic space for innovation







AN ICONIC SPACE FOR INNOVATION Situated in an iconic London location, our new building at 29 Marylebone Road is set to become the UK’s most inclusive centre for collaborative enterprise and innovation.

An iconic space for innovation | IMPACT


t is our ambition for all students to have the opportunity to benefit from leading enterprise training at Westminster. Our new eight-storey site at 29 Marylebone Road will be transformed into a place of creativity and connectivity to serve this very purpose, delivering programmes for our students in collaboration with an ever-growing pool of external partners and local businesses, to give our students the leading edge when it comes to their employment prospects. Accessibility in enterprise The conversion of 29 Marylebone Road into a hub of innovation will provide students with access to a range of benefits including enterprise education programmes, bootcamp training, digital upskilling programmes, enterprise networking events, entrepreneur talks, collaborative project events and exhibitions. Furthermore, this will be an inclusive space, meaning that it will support student entrepreneurs from a wider set of backgrounds. Removing the barriers which particular groups such

as women, black and minority ethnic (BAME) and disabled entrepreneurs face, will ensure that everyone, regardless of their background, has a fair shot at their dream and the support they need to thrive and strengthen our economy. Enabling innovation through design As a modern networking space in central London, 29 Marylebone Road will welcome collaborations between students, alumni and local businesses, bringing together a diverse group of minds to help foster innovative and creative partnerships. The new facilities to encourage innovation will include: • A start-up centre for budding entrepreneurs to found new businesses. This will incorporate a freelance lab, an incubator for student and graduate entrepreneurs who have a clear business model to develop, and an accelerator where students have regular access to innovators and entrepreneurs in residence. • A practitioner-staffed centre for one-stop advice on the legal aspects of operating a business: from intellectual


property and trademarks, to data protection, health and safety, marketing, environmental regulations, contracts and consumer protection. • Digital labs to train students in the latest digital techniques and apps, alongside bookable digital facilities (including 3D printers and XR technologies) to support the production of prototypes. • An exhibition and event space, showcasing product and service innovations from Westminster’s student start-ups. The space will also draw on the vast existing facilities at the University, especially those at our adjacent 35 Marylebone Road Campus, which include the Fabrication Laboratory (FabLab), Digital Lab, Boardroom, Information Resources and Ambika P3 exhibition space. This will create a thriving enterprise network across the University. Invest in the innovation We are aiming to have 29 Marylebone Road open and accessible to our stakeholder community by 2024. A year of programme development will then commence for training, workshops, bootcamps, experimental events and student competitions. Once the space is fully operational, it will deliver an intensive schedule of programmes, exhibitions and events, providing a vibrant destination for entrepreneurial activity. Opposite page: Architect’s impression of 29 Marylebone Road. The building is situated next to our Marylebone Campus.

GET BEHIND THE VISION The support of our alumni and friends is vital for achieving our visions for 29 Marylebone Road. There are a number of funding opportunities available to support this multimillion-pound project, which we would be delighted to discuss with you. If you would like to help us on our journey to really put the University of Westminster on the map for leading the way in inclusive enterprise, please contact Jordan Scammell, Head of Development at development@westminster.ac.uk


IMPACT | Broadening horizons in the UAE







Broadening horizons in the UAE Our Westminster Working Cultures programme continues to expand, and last September we took 16 students on an inaugural trip to the Middle East to experience the ultra-modern, bustling business environments of Dubai. One of our hosts, alumnus Rehan Khan (Applied Social Research MA, 1995), describes his motivations for welcoming our students and shares the perks of working in one of the world’s most glamourous cities.

“I normally take out the Bentley in the morning and save the Ferrari until the evening… only kidding! But ‘what car do you drive?’ is often the first question people ask when they hear you live in Dubai.” Rehan Khan, originally from south London, gained his MA at Westminster in 1995 and built his career with BT until 2003, when he left his job and the city to pursue new challenges in the Middle East. “We moved to Bahrain and then Dubai, where I worked in an array of other industries, including executive education, media and property development. I rejoined BT in 2011 and my current role is to lead the team which undertakes digital consulting assignments for BT’s Top 200 global customers. “For us as a family, Dubai has been a very positive experience, as I think the city provides a space for people from the vast milieu of cultural spectrums and beliefs. Outside of my day job I write historical fiction novels, and for an artist, Dubai provides tremendous scope for stretching one’s thinking and imagination. If the city becomes too

overwhelming, then the empty desert is less than an hour away and you can always escape into the high mountainous peaks of Oman, which is only a few hours’ drive from here.” Dubai is one of six destinations now on offer to our students as part of the Westminster Working Cultures programme, which has grown every year since its launch in 2017. As a student mobility opportunity, the shortterm programmes give undergraduates,

who may otherwise not have the means to travel, the chance to enrich their student experience and global outlook by visiting businesses around the world. Our international alumni and partners are fundamental to the success of the programme, as they generously volunteer their time to host the students and run educational sessions at their workplaces. “I had the pleasure of meeting some students from the University,” says Rehan, “and we had a really engaging session

Broadening horizons in the UAE | IMPACT

in which I shared some life lessons and heard from them about their goals and aspirations for the future. These types of exchanges are always emotionally and intellectually rewarding, for both parties.

really don’t know what you are going to love doing.” To ensure students get the most out of the trips, their itineraries are packed with activities. For example, while in Dubai,

THESE TYPES OF ENCOUNTERS BROADEN OUR HORIZONS, OPEN NEW DOORS INTO WORLDS WE NEVER KNEW EXISTED, AND IN DOING SO, MAKE US HUMBLER “I was most keen to teach them not to follow their passion. In research, when university students are asked about what they are passionate about, most come back with answers like dance, football, skiing, swimming. For 99.9 per cent of students, none of these passions will become a career. Instead, I suggest making a distinction between a job, a career and a calling. For example, my calling is that I’m a storyteller. Outside of my job and career I pursue this calling by writing historical fiction, but I know it won’t pay the bills. Instead of shooting for the stars and ending up in the wrong constellation, take things in stages, because at the start of a career you

students also visited the Coca-Cola bottling plant, Emirates NBD, Santec International and Tigerspike Dubai, among others. Beyond the sessions, they can explore the cities, and discover more about the culture and how differs from London. “Traditionally Emirati culture places a lot of emphasis on conservation, community and deference,” explains Rehan. “This makes sense, because in the harsh desert climate the tribes who survived were the ones who could conserve precious natural resources, such as water and shade. They were the ones who bonded together through ties of kinship, so forming a sense of community. And to survive in such a


desolate place, you needed to have people with vision who could lead their followers and garner the respect of others, so deference. As a result, these three cultural traits, conservation, community and deference, permeate the culture and it’s important for a visitor to understand and be in tune with this. “Hosting students was an excellent experience. Engaging with people who are different brings us together around the common challenges we all face. These types of encounters broaden our horizons, open new doors into worlds we never knew existed, and in doing so, make us humbler. Surely, that can only be a positive trait for a society to collectively achieve.” Above: Students were welcomed to Tigerspike’s Dubai office during the Westminster Working Cultures trip

Westminster Working Cultures is made possible thanks to the generous funding from the Quintin Hogg Trust, Santander Universities, and private donors. Thank you to all our alumni and supporters who have contributed to the programme all over the world. If you would like to get involved, please email workingcultures@westminster.ac.uk


IMPACT | A decade of investing in student enterprise






A DECADE OF INVESTING IN STUDENT ENTERPRISE This year marks a decade of funding from Santander Universities, the sum of which has had an incredible impact on our students’ experiences at Westminster and their employability thereafter.


antander Universities has been instrumental in the execution of some of Westminster’s most successful student programmes, including Westminster Working Cultures (both in London and internationally) and the Creative Enterprise Centre’s (CEC) workshops, competitions and events. One of its key programmes is the Santander Universities SME Internship Programme, which provides funding to student enterprises and start-ups through the CEC and has run for three years at Westminster. Selected SMEs (small to medium-sized enterprises) and start-ups incubated within the University’s Graduate Accelerator Programme are allocated a share of £11,000 either to hire an intern (by funding the salary of a final-year Westminster student or graduate as an intern), or to fund the salary of the start-up’s CEO for up to eight weeks. This investment allows the students’ enterprises to expand, while also providing work

experience and opportunities for other students and graduates. This year, the scheme has provided the salaries of two CEOs and four interns. To commemorate the ten years of support from Santander and show appreciation for its further commitment of three more years of funding, the University hosted a celebration event at our Cavendish Campus in February. The event gave representatives from Santander Universities the chance to meet some of the students and alumni who have benefited from its funding. Students who had participated in Westminster Working Cultures, the CEC’s Big Idea Competition and the SME Internship Programme spoke to Santander and senior Westminster staff about their experiences and how Santander’s support had made transformational changes to their educational experiences and their overall development. The event was concluded by a ceremonial signing of a new gift

agreement, as Santander pledged to provide a further £184,500 to the University to aid the continuation of student programmes over the next three years. “Today we are celebrating our brilliant students, and our generous, enlightened and innovative sponsor who for ten years has been helping many of our students travel internationally, with scholarships and financial support for their work,” said Dr Peter Bonfield, Vice-Chancellor and President, speaking at the event. “We are celebrating Santander being a strong supporter of the types of things we stand for as a University. Today’s about celebrating success.” Director of Santander Universities UK, Matt Hutnell, added: “We are delighted to support the University. We are helping students that have got ideas, but helping turn those ideas into reality, and from there we can help as a bank as well with our expertise in SME development.” All the unspent funding from Santander’s donations this year has gone to the Santander Stay Connected Fund, which was established following the Coronavirus outbreak. In March this year, the University moved all teaching online and thanks to this fund, 100 students were provided with laptops allowing them to continue studying remotely. Opposite: The University hosted a celebration event to commemorate ten years of support from Santander

Thank you to our sponsor:

Funding PHD opportuni-teas | IMPACT







FUNDING PHD OPPORTUNI-TEAS Teaming up with researchers at the University of Westminster, Pukka Herbs is funding a three-year PhD studentship, looking into the effects of plant compounds and the potential health benefits of drinking Pukka teas.


ach day, over two million cups of Pukka tea are enjoyed across 40 countries globally. Despite the scope and success of the company, it remains true to its mission: to promote health and wellness through the natural, powerful properties of herbs. Following the success of MSc projects looking at medicinal plants, Dr Anthony Booker, Senior Lecturer in Chinese Herbal Medicine and Medicinal Plant Science, and Professor Jimmy Bell, Professor of Life Sciences, met researchers at Pukka to discuss what kind of projects the University might be able to offer to support the company’s mission. Pukka generously pledged £114,000 to fund a full-time, three-year PhD studentship at the University’s School of Life Sciences, to cover tuition, equipment and additional bench fees. The agreed research area is based on the concept of hormesis; an idea that a small amount of stress (such as that experienced through exercise) is good for the cells in your body and if you give them this stress they will push back, which is one of the ways that the body maintains good health. The project will investigate how Pukka teas may promote this to happen, so that they can find evidence (at least on a lab scale at first, and potentially in future through clinical trials) of whether this is one way in which drinking a cup of Pukka tea each day is beneficial to consumers’ health. In more scientific terms, the chosen PhD researcher, Steve Woodley, will measure the potential effect of plant

compounds in the tea on mitochondrial activity and microvesicle metabolism. In doing so, he will determine the bioactive combinations and provide important new knowledge about how herbal compounds activate cellular elements, leading to increases in mitochondrial health and well-being. The project began in January this year, and as one of Pukka’s newest PhD students, Steve was invited to attend inductions and training with the company, including an introduction to its philosophy, a tea blending and tasting session, and lessons in Ayurvedic principles and sustainability. In March, Steve and the team were also invited to Bristol for a tour of Pukka’s

facilities. During the visit, Dr Rhys Mould, Research Fellow – Life Sciences, gave a presentation about the technical details of mitochondrial analysis and they discussed the essential details of the project, as well as the prospect of other projects and what further funding may help them in future investigations. Above: Dr Anthony Booker, Steve Woodley and Dr Rhys Mould visited Pukka’s offices and factory in Bristol

Thank you to our sponsor:


IMPACT | A formula for student success







A FORMULA FOR STUDENT SUCCESS As a generous supporter of the University, alumnus Raj Sitlani was welcomed along to The 125 Fund’s annual celebration event in 2019 to learn about the projects our talented students were working on thanks to your invaluable support. Speaking to students from the University’s Genome Engineering Lab on the night, he was fascinated to discover a whole new area of biomedical research and keen to learn how he could contribute to their work.


he students, PhD researchers Nadeen Solaiman and Ahmed Sidali, were exhibiting the latest developments in their research, which explores how gene editing can help in early diagnosis and in prevention of childhood bone cancers. One of the key strengths of the lab in which they are based is that it provides PhD and Masters students with training in how to use CRISPR technology. Led by Dr Kalpana Surendranath and Dr John Murphy, the Genome Engineering Lab aims to instruct young researchers in the theoretical and technical knowledge necessary to investigate complex problems of molecular and cellular biology, including the use of CRISPR. “CRISPR is a technology which involves a molecular tool, and what we do here in the lab is to design the specific features of this tool,” explains Dr Surendranath. “Imagine that the human genome is like an instruction book. This instruction book contains 3.9 billion letters which dictate how the millions of molecules inside each cell talk to each other and determine what we should and should not be doing in our everyday lives; everything from when we eat to how long we sleep at night,

etc. If you were to ask me, ‘Kalpana, I want to edit just one letter within this instruction book to change the fate of the human cell,’ I can do it for you using CRISPR. So, in this lab, we can rewrite the messages written in the DNA and create engineered human cells.

is endless. We are extremely proud that our students at all levels are doing it right here at Westminster.” As the technology of the decade, training in CRISPR is still rare, expensive and sought after by employers. “It’s like having a star stamp,” says

AS THE TECHNOLOGY OF THE DECADE, TRAINING IN CRISPR IS STILL RARE, EXPENSIVE AND SOUGHT AFTER BY EMPLOYERS “Of course, changes can be advantageous sometimes, but can also cause disease. We are looking at both aspects: trying to create changes to cure disease and create changes to make some cells more powerful to fight against diseases on their own. This technology offers multidisciplinary applications, including a better understanding of diseases and helps to design new medicines, improve crop production, fight mosquitoes and the list

Dr Surendranath. “It’s one of those key specialisations which employers are looking for.” Which so far has proven to be the case as each year, more incredible success stories come out of the lab. “To give you one example,” says Dr Surendranath, “one of our students originally came from Eastern Europe and her desire to do something significant with her life was so great that she moved to Birmingham and

A formula for student success | IMPACT

worked on a farm for three years milking cows, just to learn English. She studied her undergraduate course in Biomedical Sciences and joined our lab during her Masters degree. She was a really hard-working student, and we knew through observing her that she had a lot of potential. So, when an opportunity came up for a PhD position at the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), I advised her to go for it. She took a lot of convincing, being aware that Westminster is still a growing university in scientific research and this was one of the top positions in Europe. But amazingly, out of 700 candidates, she won the position. Just think of her journey! These success stories make me so proud of our students and makes our work so meaningful. It just shows that all they need is a platform and they achieve magical things.” Since learning about the team’s research, Raj Sitlani has been to visit the lab and made a generous contribution to help fund their exceptional work. “I had never heard about CRISPR before. On meeting Kalpana and her students who were so enthusiastic about their work, I simply felt that I had

to find out more. As a financial markets professional it is also refreshing to be presented with something so totally different and I felt very humble as I discovered a whole new world of science, at least to me! “I have now visited the lab on two occasions to see a small fraction of the work being done and to get a better understanding of the equipment needed. I even got to peer into a microscope, something I have not done since I was a 16-year-old schoolboy. I am genuinely interested in seeing the team live and I find their exuberance very stimulating. “I hope that my contribution will allow them to continue to grow as a team. Hopefully it has been a catalyst for them to attract further funding and, above all, I would like them to receive the recognition they thoroughly deserve, particularly because they are up against some very strong competition from the more ‘well-known’ and better funded universities.” Understanding the value of this experience and the impact it’s having on Westminster students’ employability, Dr Surendranath has also been co-ordinating efforts in introducing CRISPR to undergraduates in her


teaching and in lab-based projects to allow the greatest number of students to benefit from the technology. “This is an exceptional opportunity for our students, because to create a platform and have the expertise to teach this technology is very expensive. The University and the School of Life Sciences has invested a lot to establish that platform and make this possible. We also rely on significant donors, such as Raj, and not only for their donation but also because it’s so encouraging for us to have our work recognised in this way. “At Westminster, we’re still little people surrounded by giants, but this technology is bringing recognition to us. And the same thing, we believe, will happen to our students.” Above: Raj Sitlani (third from right) met Dr Surendranath (second from right) and the rest of the staff and research students in the Genome Engineering Lab

To find out more about the research conducted in Westminster’s Genome Engineering Lab, visit westmingenlab.com


IMPACT | Helping estranged students excel







Helping estranged students excel Without the backing of a family network, attending University can be especially challenging for estranged students. In support of the local community, The Howard de Walden Estate is funding accommodation scholarships, to reduce the financial burden and allow estranged students to focus on reaching their potential at Westminster.


utside of tuition fees, accommodation is the largest cost a student needs to meet. Estranged students, for whom staying in their family home is not an option, have no way of avoiding this expense. While most students will return home for the holidays, those who are estranged require year-round accommodation, and with the cost of living so high for students in London, the total support they receive from Student Finance is hardly enough to cover the higher rents, commuting charges and inflated cost of general living expenses. A student is defined as ‘estranged’ if there is an irreconcilable physical and emotional distancing between them and their family members. The cause of estrangement varies, but these students often have unstable family backgrounds and have removed themselves from the family home without intervention from the local authority. As such, they rarely receive housing support and a Stand Alone report found that over 30 per cent of estranged students were registered homeless or had considered registering as homeless before their course began.

Stand Alone Pledge Westminster has a long and proud history of enabling social mobility and supporting disadvantaged students to ensure they get the most out of higher education. In 2016, Westminster signed the Stand Alone Pledge, publicly committing to supporting students who are studying without the support or approval of a family network. Fulfilling this commitment, Westminster now

still struggle to have the full funding, security and support they need to focus on their studies without the concerns of financial instability. The Howard de Walden Estate scholarship The Howard de Walden Estate is the freehold owner of most of the buildings in the 92 acres of Marylebone. For the second year, as part of its commitment to support the local community, the

I WAS WORKING IN A LABOURING JOB, SO REDUCING THIS HAS BEEN BENEFICIAL IN ALLOWING ME TO DIRECT MY ENERGY WHERE IT IS NEEDED MOST offers estranged students bursaries, year-round accommodation and a number of scholarships in partnership with the Unite Foundation. However, with over 100 registered estranged students studying at the University, many

Estate is funding two accommodation scholarships for estranged final-year students at Westminster. Thanks to the funding (now totalling £27,000), these students are able to reduce their part-time working hours so that they can

Helping estranged students excel | IMPACT

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focus on studying and stand the best possible chance of success. “The Howard de Walden Estate is committed to supporting its community and helping it continue to flourish,” says Jenny Hancock, Place and Community Director for the Howard de Walden Estate. “Supporting local students is part of this programme and it has been a pleasure to work with the University of Westminster, to help realise these ambitions.” One of the students selected to receive funding this year is Jessica. When Jessica was 14, her mum was sadly diagnosed with cancer, and when she passed away, Jessica was unable to live at home with her father. She moved out at the age of 17 and became estranged from her family thereafter. Now a final-year Psychology BSc student, she hopes to continue in higher education and complete an MA in Mental Health Research. “This scholarship has benefitted me untold amounts,” she says. “Being estranged has meant that I have lived by myself and supported myself financially since the age of 17, since studying for my A Levels without any state welfare support. I was finding it difficult before the scholarship to find the money for rent. The scholarship enabled me to pay this outright, reducing my anxiety and allowing me to reduce working hours to participate more in student activities at Westminster and enhance my student journey here. “It has also benefitted my mental health, as I have been able to devote more time to my studies, thereby raising my chances of attaining a good degree. I was working in a labouring job, so reducing this has been beneficial in allowing me to direct my energy where it is needed most. “The team at Westminster helped me to elicit all the support I was eligible for. The Howard de Walden scholarship on top of this support truly transformed and elevated my student experience.”



IMPACT | The matchmakers







The Matchmakers With thousands of effective matches since its inception, our award-winning Career Mentoring Scheme continues to grow and develop each year. Behind its success lies the dedication and skill of the Mentoring Team: Anick, Ludo and Zurria. As experts in the field, they tell us what makes the perfect mentor.

The matchmakers | IMPACT


ith over 500 mentoring partnerships to facilitate each year, the Mentoring Team have their work cut out year-round. But the most critical stage of the mentoring cycle is the matching; connecting the right mentor with the right mentee so that they both gain as much from the relationship as possible. “Mentors come in all shapes and sizes,” explains Ludo, Mentoring Officer (Mentors). “There isn’t one thing we look for because everyone contributes skills and qualities in different ways. “There are some useful characteristics, such as empathy; being able to listen and understand your mentee’s perspective. But what is most important is being reflective and self-critical, and making sure that you are invested in the

difference, is the amount of effort you’re willing to put in. For example, one of our mentees, a law student, was really struggling with his confidence. The mentor we matched him with worked in accounting and, at first, questioned why we’d matched them. But it was based on the fact that he’s a really confident person and great at bringing people out of their shell. He put in the effort to learn about the mentee’s subject and spoke to his colleagues working in that field, so he could support him. The mentee’s transformation was incredible!” This is just one of thousands of success stories to come out of the Career Mentoring Scheme since its launch in 2010. Within a decade, the number of matches has gone from just 12 to over 500 each year, and over 1,000 mentors participating. Because of the

IF YOU’RE OPEN FOR A TRUE EXCHANGE AS A MENTOR, YOU’LL GET MORE OUT OF IT THAN GOING IN THINKING YOU’RE THE EXPERT. IT’S A JOURNEY FOR BOTH OF YOU relationship in a mutually beneficial way. If you’re open to a true exchange as a mentor, you’ll get more out of it than going in thinking you’re the expert. It’s a journey for both of you.” Zurria, Senior Mentoring Officer, agrees. “You don’t need to fit into any particular category,” she says. “Mentors often think they need to be a specific ‘type’ of person, and don’t realise how much value they can provide. So many are concerned that they’re unqualified or don’t have the correct skills, but mentoring is a learning process for both of you.” What’s more, the Career Mentoring Scheme now offers CPD-accredited training to all mentors. As well as enhancing professional development, this training teaches volunteers the skills and understanding they need to approach the relationship and ensure it’s a success. So, what does a successful match look like? “Firstly, the ‘perfect match’ doesn’t exist,” explains Anick, Mentoring Administrator. “What makes all the

high demand, the team have recently introduced a second mentoring cycle per year, doubling the chances of students being matched with a suitable mentor. The Scheme has also become progressively more flexible, encouraging online and phone meetings to ensure that international alumni can still have effective relationships with their mentees. “International mentoring even has advantages over other mentoring relationships, such as a chance for mentees to learn what it’s like to live and work in another country,” explains Zurria. “We have mentors from more than 50 countries, and we engage with them just as much as those in London to make sure they feel part of the community.” Beyond the professional development and the networking opportunities available to our mentors, what is considered the biggest benefit for most of them is how personally fulfilling it is to support our students. “Our University has such a unique demographic,” says Ludo. “Unlike other institutions, most of our students are working, commuting, first in their family to go to university or


have to overcome countless other obstacles just to get to class. Mentoring at Westminster can make such a difference to these students’ prospects. “It is such an easy and effective way to mobilise people and give our students access to conversations with professionals, which they otherwise wouldn’t have. Just one conversation can make so much difference. Education is a means of social mobility, and I think as a team, we do a really good job of contributing to that.” “For me,” says Zurria, “it’s about the power of knowledge sharing. What I value the most in this role is seeing the big change in our mentees and knowing that we were instrumental in helping to empower them. And knowing that with that empowerment, they can pass on all they’ve learnt and help someone else.” “Mentoring is more than just a fun matchmaking exercise,” agrees Anick. “By taking what a student wants to do for their future and connecting them with a dedicated mentor, we can really help them to achieve their dream.” Thank you to all our mentors who are instrumental in helping our students and recent graduates reach their potential. If you would like to find out more about the Career Mentoring Scheme, visit westminster.ac.uk/become-a-mentor Opposite: The Mentoring Team – Anick Soni, Ludo Siniscalchi Bernabo and Zurria Qureshi

ASK-A-MENTOR SERVICE Would you enjoy mentoring a student, but don’t have much time? We are looking for mentors who can support our students and recent graduates through our Ask-a-Mentor service. This service gives students and recent graduates the chance to have a one-off conversation with an experienced professional in the area they hope to work in, and ask sector-specific questions regarding applications, interviews and their career ambitions. This conversation can take place over the phone, through online platforms or simply by email. To apply visit: westminster.ac.uk/mentor-signup


IMPACT | Giving back as a recent grad







Giving back as a recent grad There are many ways that you can support students and fellow alumni. One of our recent graduates, Jon Woodburn, completed his course last summer and has since sought out ways to volunteer, support and give back to the University. “I had an amazing experience at Westminster,” says Jon. “I was drawn to the University by its diversity and my desire to experience different cultures and meet people from all around the world. “One of the highlights was being part of the Change the World summit trip and getting the chance to speak at the United Nations. It was unbelievable; like a trial of my future dream career. Westminster Working Cultures was also an amazing experience; potentially one of the best things I have done in my life. I learnt that I could be independent in an unfamiliar setting, and it showed me the importance of adapting to fit your surroundings, rather than making the surroundings adapt to you. These kinds of employability skills are really hard to grasp unless you’re thrown in at the deep end.” Since graduating, Jon has taken part in the Employability Advisory Boards

(EABs), joined our Career Mentoring Scheme and become the first ambassador for our exclusive online networking platform, Westminster Connect. “Now my career is under way, I am keen to give back for all that I have learnt over the past few years,” he explains. “I also want my friends to be aware of the great work the University does to support us as alumni. “Westminster Connect has so many great functions for helping us develop our careers, including events, groups and a directory of fellow alumni who are willing to offer guidance in their sector. As the first ambassador on the platform, I’ve been sharing advice and insights on what I wish I’d known as soon as I graduated. I’ve covered topics such as skills tests, writing CVs and the importance of body language during interviews. Having also signed up to the

Career Mentoring Scheme, I’m able to share what I learn through my mentor, allowing other graduates to benefit from our partnership. “I am so grateful for my experiences at Westminster and if I can help students with their course, or alumni with their employability as a way of giving back, I’m happy to do so.” Opposite: Jon (second from left) during a Westminster Working Cultures trip to Mumbai

HOW CAN YOU GIVE BACK? We are so grateful to all our volunteers, each of whom makes a tremendous impact on our students’ experience at Westminster. There are many ways to get involved, including: • Submitting an alumni profile to our website • Joining the Career Mentoring Scheme • Giving a career talk to our students • Hosting students through Westminster Working Cultures • Sharing advice and support with graduates on WestminsterConnect.org For more information please contact alumni@westminster.ac.uk

The professor geoffrey petts research fund | IMPACT

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In memory of the late Professor Geoffrey Petts, former Vice-Chancellor and President of the University, we have established the Professor Geoffrey Petts Research Fund to recognise the distinguished contributions he made to interdisciplinary river science research and his belief that all students, regardless of their financial situation, should have the opportunity to succeed.

he University is committed to developing a unified, interdisciplinary community of researchers with a vibrant body of PhD students at its heart. There are currently around 450 doctoral researchers contributing to the hive of activity happening within our research communities, the vast majority of which are self-funded. With such limited external sources of funding available, many researchers struggle to find the funding they need to enrich their research, deepen their understanding and ultimately reach their true potential. Fieldwork in particular is often an issue for our young researchers, as it’s an area that doesn’t receive funding through Graduate School scholarships. The additional costs incurred to complete this research can often be overwhelming for students, stretching them too far financially and having a detrimental impact on their well-being and focus. Thanks to a generous pledge made by Professor Judith Petts CBE in memory of her late husband, we have launched the Professor Geoffrey Petts Research Fund. The funding, which has been matched by the University, will allow PhD researchers to apply for financial support towards equipment and fieldwork costs. By relieving this financial strain, the Fund will make postgraduate research more accessible and elevate the standard of work

produced. Not only will this help improve students’ prospects for the future and the contribution to the academic community they represent, but also the overall reputation of our University. “Doing a PhD demands extraordinary commitment – emotional, psychological, intellectual and financial,” explains Professor Leigh Wilson, Director of the Graduate School. “Any financial support given to a PhD student has a significant impact on their ability to maintain this commitment. In addition to this, the activities made possible through the funding of research expenses enrich and deepen the eventual research, ensuring that University of Westminster PhD students have the best possible chance of producing innovative, original and world-changing work.” Acknowledging the significant contribution made by Professor Geoffrey Petts, this fund will allow the impact of his life to continue to benefit many more future students at Westminster. To help us sustain the fund and give our research students the best possible chance of success in their field, please get in touch with Jordan Scammell, Head of Development, at development@westminster.ac.uk

My life and legacy | IMPACT









Alumnus Peter Gordon recognises studying at Westminster in the 1990s as a turning point in his life. Working alongside his studies was a welcome challenge which persuaded him to alter his career path. Now retired, he donates regularly to the scholarship programme and has generously pledged to remember the University in his will.

“For someone who is retired, I seem to be rather busy!” he tells us. Following a successful career in the rail industry, Peter took early retirement and now holds positions in a number of organisations, including chair of the Transport Statistics Users Group and editor of the Transport Economist magazine. “As an alumnus,” he adds, “I also keep in good contact with the University – attending events, using the libraries and I’m still in touch with some of the staff, including my supervisors. “Looking back, I really enjoyed studying at Westminster. I was able to meet industry peers and engage them in an exchange of ideas which gave me a chance to stretch myself and broaden my horizons. It’s such a diverse University, really a microcosm of London.” It is this unique diversity which characterises the University of Westminster, as an institution which is built on a rich history of ‘education for all’. This ethos means that many of our students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, or are the first in their family to attend university and therefore often require financial support through

scholarships or bursaries in order to achieve the degree they deserve. “I was very lucky, as working fulltime during my MA meant I had the advantage of being financially secure, which a lot of students aren’t,” explains Peter. “That’s why I decided to leave a legacy to the University. Westminster was a place that shaped my life; I applied, started my degree and didn’t look back. However, I simply would not have been able to complete my research degree if I hadn’t been working full-time. If I was a 22-year-old Masters student now, I know I would struggle. “Also, as a trustee of a charity that relies very much on legacy giving, I know what a difference it can make. When you consider, for example, The 125 Fund and all the great projects that the students are working on, I can see how many people will benefit, both directly and indirectly, from my donation. “I believe,” summarises Peter, “if you’ve got the money, it’s always good to give a little back to places you’ve benefitted from; to remember those which have helped you on your way and think of the future generations which you can support.”

LEAVE A LEGACY TODAY, TRANSFORM LIVES TOMORROW Leaving a legacy is an ideal way to give a gift that you might not be able to give during your lifetime and which will make a lasting impact on future generations of Westminster students. Did you know that: • Leaving a legacy is one of the easiest ways you can make a gift to the University. • You can direct your gift to an area of the University’s work that you wish to support in particular. • Making a legacy gift to the University is tax-free and can reduce the tax paid on your entire estate. If you would like to find out more about remembering the University in your will, then please contact our Development Office at development@westminster.ac.uk


FREE WILL-WRITING Together with our partners at Beyond, we are delighted to offer our alumni a free will-writing service. Whether it’s your first will or you wish to amend an existing will, the process is simple and can be completed in just 15 minutes.

Visit westminster.ac.uk/legacy-giving today.

Profile for University of Westminster alumni

Impact 2020  


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