Dr. Heather Skinner – Learning about Voice

Source: Blog – Sarah Nego

My second # tribute is to Dr. Heather Skinner a colleague at Glamorgan University. I was at Glamorgan University for 17 months during 2004-2005, before being invited to apply for a position at Cardiff University. While only a little over a year I learnt a lot from colleagues Debbie Stallard, Professor Michael Quayle, Henry Enos, Dr. Paul ThomasDr. Rachel Mason-Jones and others. I’ll always be indebted to for sharing insights about teaching and learning management studies in a new university context. A term I’d not been familiar with until I read about the Robbins Report written in 1960’s about UK higher education while working in the UK.

In Australia most of our universities are new universities in terms of history and legacy. By way of example my graduate school, University of New South Wales, was founded in 1949; with our oldest university, University of Sydney founded in 1851. While studying and researching I never felt we had the distinction between older and newer universities. This distinction in the UK I worry in the academic community puts more emphasis on research prestige of the older red brick institution in our discourse, than on the research and learning innovation of the new.

I’ve learn’t a lot from colleagues at new universities especially their innovation, creativity and decision making agility in advancing teaching and digital learning in formal learning contexts. Last week for example, I was told that the Cardiff School of Creative and Cultural Industries at Glamorgan University has developed a Foundation Degree in Social Media, the first of its kind in the UK. Given the current climate of social-cultural change spurned by social digital change in how we communicate, socialize and work, degrees like this are imperative for a University, new and old, to participate in the time we live in now, not a time long past.

Learning the of learning …

At Glamorgan I first met Dr. Heather Skinner during a series of teaching meetings in the marketing and strategy department. Heather, had come from industry, and started as a senior lecturer in the department in 2001. She was the students most popular and the highest rated teacher in our group. Her classes were innovative, lively and she engaged students in challenging and sometimes provocative debates and case studies around real-world issues facing organizations today, especially organizations founded and developing in Wales.

And sing, Heather can sing. I did think it was her singing that made her an amazing teacher, giving her confidence on stage in front of her students. But as we worked together I learnt more about her dedication to student learning. She would (and still does) go out of her way to help students engage with which ever learning experience they needed to best learn. She educated from the learner perspective, not policy or politics. She lead courses and developed new schemes and she supervised hundreds of student projects. In 2011 it came as great news to me that Heather’s hard work and dedication had been nationally recognized. She was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship by the Higher Education Academy (HEA). An honor I know she is and should be very proud of.

Learning the voice of place …

Heather has a passion for her research on , and even more passion in sharing it with others. When I joined the group, Heather was working on a series of research projects that would inform a portfolio of publications to achieve her doctorate. She was working on a collection about place and place branding in the marketing of services. Her work especially focuses on public and non-profit sectors and leisure and tourism. I’d been appointed as the head of the research unit in the marketing group when I started, and the more I learnt about Heather’s research, the more I knew I and many other peers in marketing would learn a lot from her as her career progressed. Today, Heather has published over 27 papers in national peer-review journals. I’d argue Heather is one of Wales leading academics in the field of services and place marketing.

Learning the power of my voice … 

During my time at Glamorgan University working with Heather and since leaving, seeing her at conferences or visiting Glamorgan to give a seminar last year, Heather has helped me learn about the power of voice. At the time and even now she probably wasn’t aware of this, but like many mentors in our everyday, they just do what they do and it is in this that they support, encourage and inspire us. And Heather inspired me to learn how to use my voice.

While observing Heather, I learnt she treated all her students and colleagues the same no matter who they were. She also treated me just like she did the Professors. It didn’t matter if you were Welsh, or Australian, young or old, male or female, had an advanced degree or not. She treats people no different. And I like it. Heather reminded me of what my dad had taught me as he drove me to my first day of a part-time job when I was 16. He said:

“It doesn’t matter if you are talking to the cleaner, or the secretary, a customer or the owner of the company, you treat everyone with the same respect, and in the same way. No different” (Douglas).

That is how my parents raised my sisters and I. It didn’t matter if we were born a girl or a boy, we could do anything. If we had a question, ask it. If we had an opinion, share it … with respect and if you can support that opinion with more than the words, “I think…” Since a young girl growing up in Australia I’ve always had a voice, we all do. I was (and still am) learning how to use it.

Some of us have quiet voices and others just can’t stop talking. As a teenager I participated in and debating competitions, so I could develop my confidence in using my voice to speak in front of people. Something my mother felt was very important for me. Only those close to me really know how nervous I still get before I talk in public. But like an actor, I’ve trained myself over the years to channel that feeling into my talks. 

Often we might not know how to use our voice or when to. We are not really taught formally at school, university and in the workforce how to use our voice. Often this results in people not voicing fears or uncertainties or giving praise when it is due. We learn about voice informally and it often takes an event or a person in your life to help you learn how to use your voice and when. How to speak up when you feel something is not quite right. How to offer support to others going through difficult times or how to offer praise for a job or performance well done.

While praise for others might come easy; using your voice to speak up against the status quo is often not. And the time for this voice is needed not really when one is on stage, but often in the quiet of offices, in meetings and social gatherings.

Heather taught me the power of my voice, especially for representing colleagues and students when the cookie that crumbles is not that fairly distributed; when someone doesn’t have a strong voice and you do; or when their voice does not have a seat at the table or they are not part of the conversation and you are.

In teaching and learning contexts it is often the student’s voice who is absent from how we plan and develop courses and class experiences. In academic research it is the voice of participants and the tax paying public that is absent as we conduct, write about, present and publish academic research papers. And in the academic community, a community which still in the 21st century suffers from race, economic and gender inequity in senior management and professoriate positions, it is often the voice of the minority, the different or the unrepresented that doesn’t have a seat at the decision making table.  

In summary …

Voice is a very powerful thing we each have. It is important to develop and learn how, when, and where to use. Most importantly, however, is the learning on why to use our voice — for what reasons, what purpose and to benefit whom.

To Heather I dedicate this #wowwales tribute.

Dr Heather Skinner, a #wowwales colleague, mentor, and friend.

Who inspires you?

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Read more here about my #Wowwales Insight Series. From the 9th February to the 9th of March, I’ll post a new blog post every day with a tribute to someone who has inspired, mentored or encouraged me during my 10 years here in Wales. 

You can follow my insight series @drkellypage with the hashtag #wowwales for all things #wowwales OR why not join me and contribute your own blog tribute to the Women of your World (#WOW) — women who inspire, mentor or encourage you 

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2 comments

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Heather Skinner (4 years ago)

WOW indeed Kelly, I am most humbled by these comments. It has been most heart-warming to read.

Kelly Page (4 years ago)

Very very well deserved my dear :-) thank you for all your support and guidance over the years. Let’s make sure this is just the beginning of more to come :-)

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