Above: NEC Student Services Administrator Maria
In this edition of Behind the Scenes: meet Student Services Administrator Maria, who has perhaps one of the most varied roles of anyone on the NEC team. If you have called us over the course of the past seven years you have a good chance of having spoken to her yourself.
Maria has lived in Cambridge, where NEC’s offices are based, for many years. She joined the team in 2008 and cites her own experiences of lifelong learning as one of the reasons why she applied for a job here: ‘The role sounded particularly interesting to me because, having been an adult learner myself, I liked the idea of working in education and helping other people to learn too. I’ve done some evening classes in the past and have also taken some distance learning courses with the Open University, which I later learned has historical links with NEC. That was a pretty fascinating thing to discover.’
Maria feels that she got more out of learning as an adult than she did at school: ‘It feels more like I’m learning on my own terms, under my own initiative. I can choose to focus on subjects I particularly like, and study in a way that makes it feel like a hobby. I’ve even improved on some of my school grades as a result.’
Maria’s familiarity with adult and distance learning has helped give her insight into the needs of NEC’s learners. Having first-hand experience puts things into context and she feels that this helps her better support people who enrol with NEC. She describes her work day as being very dynamic. It’s a busy and varied role, but she enjoys the challenge.
‘On any one day I can potentially be dealing with anything from being the first point of contact for incoming calls to helping new tutors settle into the NEC family. I also help new students find their way around their online workspace and check in with them periodically to see how they’re getting along with their tutor and their course. I help with general queries, exam applications, and in November and March I help to send out results certificates to students. I get to know the tutors and students very well. NEC is a very friendly place to work and although it can sometimes get very busy I think it’s very fulfilling to be part of something that can help a lot of people.
‘Every day is different from the next. You need to be versatile and adaptable, but I like that. Not only are you not in danger of ever becoming bored, but it’s also an interesting reflection of NEC itself: our courses and college were set up to help people study in a way that is less rigid and more flexible, so it seems fitting that I should be using the same approaches in my day-to-day work here.’
Many of the NEC learners currently sitting their exams may have spoken to Maria fairly recently, as she helped make sure their exam applications were registered earlier in the year. ‘Part of my role is to assist with all the arrangements that need to be made before students can sit their exams. Our students will either be sitting at one of our partner exam centres or looking for a local centre of their own and registering as a private candidate. If they want to choose their own centre, I help them to find one that would be suitable.
‘The bulk of the preparation starts about sixth months beforehand because students need to register in advance. We have to keep students updated so they know what the timescales are and when they need to send everything in, and I help to make sure all their forms are filled in and sent off before the relevant deadlines. I also answer students’ queries about the exam application process and any more general questions they might have about exams.’
Every August, Maria and the rest of the team are on hand to support students through the annual GCSE, IGCSE and A level results days. It tends to be a very busy time because of the volume of incoming calls and communication, but this is a good thing to the team: they want to hear from their learners about how things went.
‘It’s always exciting because we look forward to finding out how they do,’ says Maria. ‘We know they have often had to work especially hard because many of them study at the same time as working or caring, or they suffer from ill health… there are many different circumstances that can make things more difficult. So we love to hear from them on results day and hear how things turned out. Despite all the difficulties we see many success stories, and that’s really inspiring.’
The team also love to hear about learners’ plans after results day: ‘Some move on to higher education or a new job. Others choose to study more subjects with NEC. People have many reasons for wanting to study and whether it’s for their career or just for personal interest it’s great to be able to help them achieve that.
‘It’s also nice to hear how they’ve found their time studying at NEC because if they have any feedback for us about their experience then we can use that to better help more students in the future.’
Maria says that even if a student hasn’t done as well as they hoped to, they should always get in touch and speak to the team. ‘If you’re feeling disappointed it can be hard to work out what to do next, so talk to us because we can help you understand what your options are. We’re still here to support you!’
To learners everywhere who are currently sitting exams, Maria says: ‘Good luck from me and NEC! Try not to get too stressed and remember to look after yourself.’
If you’re an NEC learner, don’t forget to get in touch in August to let us know how results day goes for you!
To find out more about NEC and the wide range of distance learning courses we offer, including A levels, GCSEs and IGCSEs, visit our website. You can also keep up to date with all the latest NEC news and events by subscribing to our newsletter or following our blog. We can also be found on social networks including Twitter and Facebook.