Network News: Michaelmas Term: Nov 2022
'Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness...'
Christina White joined members of the Oxford Climate Alumni Network (OXCAN) for an autumn tour of Oxford’s most famous garden
The Oxford Botanic Garden was established 400 years ago as a physic garden providing plants and potions to ‘kill or cure’. In the 19th century it developed into a botanic garden with a focus on plant morphology and science. Today it is at the forefront of significant botanical research, notably the effect of climate on the natural world. OXCAN, founded to raise awareness of climate change, is keen to discover how the garden coped after the hottest English summer on record.
Mark Brent, head gardener, says the garden faced a double-whammy of soaring temperatures – 30 plus, rising to 40 degrees Celsius – and a depleted water table; the result of an unseasonably dry winter. The Chinese trees, used to a more temperate climate, wilted in the high heat; trees acclimatised to temperature, such as the Texas Poplar, thrived. Forty years ago, the gardeners here were forced to protect exotic specimens against the harshest winter frosts. Now Orientals such as carob and oleander flourish.
The garden is ‘a living plant library’ demonstrating how plants evolve, co-exist, and survive. Mark points out a dramatic sorbus domestica – a refugee of an earlier climate catastrophe when ice sheets enveloped Europe, and a living representation of the lost wild wood that once covered the British Isles. Its seeds were found on coastal Wales.
The focus on climate has led the gardeners here to experiment with prairie and Mediterranean planting. Working with botanists at the University of Sheffield, they planted an area with drought-tolerant/high nectar species; the plot is not watered or fed, with just a ‘hard cut back in February’ to encourage renewal. The successful experiment has been replicated across the country – notably at the Olympic Park in London. Native freshwater plants are also being grown here for wider distribution across the United Kingdom and the botanic team is currently working with botanists in Ethiopia and Japan helping with tree planting and preservation.
We move into the glasshouses and admire the extraordinary water lilies and carnivorous plants. In the 21st century, there is a growing symbiosis between the plant world and science; the structure of the water lily pad, for example, which inspired the construction of early Victorian glasshouses, is now providing inspiration for solar panel construction. Glasshouses need heat – how will they cope in the current energy crisis? Mark says there is an ambitious plan to replace all the outdated glasshouses with new state-of-the art facilities, cutting energy costs by an estimated 85%. The project will bring together science, technology, and botanical expertise to future-proof the garden for years to come.
In the 16th century, Robert Burton’s, The Anatomy of Melancholy, recognised that gardens were essential for good mental health. Post-pandemic a new generation is discovering the benefits. Mark says his team is happy to arrange guided tours of the OBG for alumni groups free of charge – a nice option for alumni planning an Oxford visit. We finish the tour beneath a large taxus buccata, an English yew that survived the English Civil War, a mini tornado, and the heatwave of 2022. A fitting metaphor for this remarkable garden’s ability to survive and thrive.
The Oxford Botanic Garden Home | Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum
OXCAN: Oxford Climate Alumni Network (OxCAN)
Alumni Groups lead the way welcoming the class of 2022
2022 is the year more alumni groups than ever before held a welcome event for new Oxford students. Thank you for heeding Christine Fairchild's call to action back in May; these events make a difference.
We've had great feedback from students and alumni, and we've listened to your requests for earlier regional-focused offer holder data to help you prepare. We will be in touch early in 2023 with a game plan for the year.
Volunteer Forum Series - Dates for your diary
The online Volunteer Forum Series continues, offering key insights and advice for all alumni group volunteers. Forthcoming sessions include:
Succession Planning: 30 November 2022, 7pm GMT. Planning for the future, building a committee and thinking ahead. Speakers will include Joy O'Neill from the Oxford Climate Alumni Network.
OXCAM: 18 January 2023, 7pm GMT. Working with fellow Cambridge alumni to build and develop your joint alumni community. Speakers will include Charlotte Richards (Oxford office) and India Thompson (Cambridge office).
Young Alumni: 22 February 2023, 1pm GMT. Reaching out to millennials and Generation Z. How to reinvigorate your alumni group and engage the next generation of alumni volunteers. Speakers will include Kate Suares (Oxford office).
We will be mailing all group leaders and alumni volunteers with reminders of the forum sessions and connection links. If you have questions for any of the sessions listed, and/or if you would like to take part as a contributor contact us now using the button below.
Internships: Building brilliant
At this time of year, we reach out to all our groups asking alumni to offer summer internships for current and graduating students. These placements provide essential work experience and life skills - all valuable for a C.V. Could you or your members offer an internship helping to launch our students on their career paths? Jonathan Black, Director of the Oxford Careers Service and a member of the Alumni Board, explains why your involvement is so important:
'All employers value students with work experience, and Oxford undergraduate and graduate students are no exception. Work experience, in whatever form and whatever it is called (internship, placement, shadowing etc) gives students the chance to explore organisations and demonstrate so-called employability skills that employers value.
Students learn some of these skills in their intense academic programmes at Oxford, but some can only be gained in the workplace. Any workplace. I’m thinking particularly about Business Awareness, Teamwork, Creativity and Problem Solving. At the Careers Service, we have built a programme of internships exclusive to Oxford students – micro internship (2-5 days, 3 options a year), summer internships (2-12 weeks, Long Vacation), and Crankstart internships (opportunities for undergraduate Crankstart scholars, that come with own funding).
And these are all very popular: we offered about 2,000 of these in 2021/22, and there were 9,000 applications. Alumni have been critical in offering many of the good quality internships we facilitate. Many have been truly extraordinary and life changing. The more demanding the projects, the more Oxford students thrive!
With such high demand, we are looking for alumni interested in particular in offering a summer internship (or two!) to Oxford students in summer 2023. They can be in any sector and anywhere in the world. Hiring a student for 2-12 weeks can be great for any type of organisation. Students are full of initiative and talent, and you can gain an additional member of staff who can be assigned a specific project and provide creative input and quality results.'
To get involved with the programme, email the Careers Service.
Oxford travels: Regional round-up
Liesl Elder, Director of Development for the University of Oxford, met with the committee of OUS Victoria on a recent trip to Australia. In November, Professor David Gann CBE, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Development and External Affairs) travels to Germany and will be meeting informally with alumni and members of the new Berlin committee.
September saw the launch of a new North-East alumni group and over 100 alumni and undergraduates came together at the Common Room in central Newcastle to learn about alumni engagement and crucial outreach for the region. A committee is being formed and a Christmas event is planned.
Christmas is coming
Something special planned for the Christmas/holiday season? Please get in touch. Our website events diary for December will be widely promoted through social media – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Check out what is on offer and contact us now to list your event and reach a wider audience. Stay in touch and stay connected.
May 2022: Your Alumni Network is flourishing
New Network Groups are coming online in the next few weeks. We have new local groups in Surrey and West Sussex, and a new area regional group for the North-East of England which will launch later in the year - details in your May Network News. James Vaux (Christ Church 1983) - Chair of the new West Sussex Group- shared his thoughts on stepping into the breach and continuing that vital Oxford experience for a new generation of alumni.
OUS WEST SUSSEX
I’ve been a member of OUS Hampshire & Isle of Wight for a long time and really enjoy their events. It’s good to meet with like-minded people and they have an active outreach programme for Oxford too. When we moved to neighbouring West Sussex and found a gap in the Alumni network here, Mike Gretton, chair of the Hampshire branch, encouraged me to set up a distinct county group. It turns out there had been a branch here until a few years back, which sadly had to close as committee members were unable to find successors.
Together with fellow alumni Philip and Claire, we’re now in the process of re-establishing OUS West Sussex. It’s still early days, but we’ve received a lot of interest from people wanting to socialise and form new connections post-lockdown.
There are plenty of challenges, the first being how to track down and contact alumni in the county when data protection legislation makes this difficult. The OUS Alumni Office has been very helpful with this and is organising a mail-out for us when our first events are finalised. From there we can build up our own database. The second challenge is to create events which appeal to alumni of all ages. We aim to address this by holding the majority of meetings out of working hours, ensuring a wide variety of events with family-friendly venues, and sensible pricing. No black-tie dinners planned! As it’s a big county, it’s also important to spread events around so distances aren’t off-putting.
The next step will be to add outreach activities such as mentoring in local schools and parties for Freshers (New Oxford Students) to meet other Oxford students from West Sussex before going up. But first things first…we need to build up a firm membership base initially. Do keep track of how we get along!
Alumni group update survey
The alumni group update survey focussed on activity between April 2020 and July 2021. There was only a 30% response rate this year, which is disappointingly low. However, the survey does show a good transition to online events - most of the groups who responded held between one and four virtual events, attracting online audiences of between 10 and 50 people. Some groups reported higher attendance at virtual events than the average attendance at their in-person events before the pandemic, and some groups welcomed at their online events members who had never previously attended an in-person group event!
Online events held during this period ranged from networking meetings and book clubs to lectures and quizzes, and even an online beer tasting evening! 34% of groups were able to host in-person events over this time, many of which were held outdoors, such as picnics, bike rides and organised walks.
Several groups noted that they are anticipating holding in-person events such as dinners and receptions this autumn, where restrictions allow this. We all look forward to being able to catch up with old friends and make new connections in real-life once again, and we will be delighted to receive your feedback following these in-person events!
Access and Admissions - OUS Gloucestershire's annual Admissions Event
OUS Gloucestershire ran its annual Admissions Event last November. As a group, we have run an Admissions event since 2015 but this is the first time it has been online. Pupils, teachers and parents across Gloucestershire logged onto Zoom to watch the presentation and take part in the live discussion. A couple of hundred devices were logged in live, with some schools streaming the event to interested pupils. Historically 600-800 have attended. Online, total numbers were more difficult to establish, but at least 25 schools expressed an interest in attending.
Marrium Khan, Senior Access officer from Lady Margaret Hall, talked about the admissions process, the interviews and what the University does to ensure a level playing field for all applicants.
Next followed a question-and-answer session with six current undergraduates who had all attended Gloucestershire Schools.
Luke Walpole St Hugh’s (2014) very kindly moderated the session again. The session focused on what it was like to be a current undergraduate at Oxford. Subjects included academic workloads, support, clubs, sport, food, and accommodation.
This year’s event was a great success despite the move to being online for the first time.
Andrew Mitchell, Treasurer (St Catherine’s, 1985)
Access and Admissions - OUS Worcestershire's mock Oxford interviews
2020 has been an extraordinary year and we are all aware how much students' education has been disrupted by COVID-19. At OUS Worcestershire, we felt it was more important than ever to run our mock interview programme, to support local students continuing to pursue their higher education ambitions.
COVID-19 restrictions meant we had to rethink how we offered our mock interviews. We worked with the University and with local schools to hold the mock interviews remotely.
While it was disappointing not to be able to meet students face-to-face, it was rewarding to hear how much they appreciated the opportunity, which still enabled them to prepare for their interviews by thinking about their subject in original ways and communicating their passion for it.
As the University conducted its interviews remotely too, the mock interviews also gave the students a chance to familiarise themselves with the format and overcome any technical hiccups. It was fantastic to see such enthusiasm from the students and we wish them all the very best with their applications and future education!
James Green, OUS Worcestershire (Jesus, 2009)
Alumni group freshers' events go virtual!
Incoming Oxford students from around the world were given a taste of life at Oxford, at a series of freshers’ events held by alumni groups globally this summer.
Freshers' events are a strategic priority for the Alumni Office, and we report back on them annually, as part of our metrics. The events also enable alumni groups to encourage younger members to join their mailing lists.
More than 20 groups held freshers’ events virtually this year, while in-person events were held in China, Cyprus and Luxembourg.
In the UK, seven events took place, including online gatherings in Manchester, Liverpool and London and a joint event held by OUS East Sussex and OUS West Kent for students from Kent and Sussex.
Alicia Garcia Sierra, who joined OUS Madrid’s event, said she found the meeting really useful.
“I loved hearing about all the experiences, especially those related to the “life in Oxford”, which was a really great unknown for me,” she added.
“Also, it was nice to know more people in my same situation and I hope to meet some of them when we arrive in Oxford.”
In Melbourne, Australia, more than 40 freshers and around ten alumni joined OUS Victoria’s online event. The group answered questions from students about Oxford, before breaking into smaller groups with alumni to chat with freshers.
“Although we’d have loved to have an in-person event, I’m very happy with the turnout, and that we were able to welcome so many interstate students,” said Hannah Gould (St Antony’s, 2014) of OUS Victoria.
“I will definitely think about incorporating an online element into future freshers’ farewells.”
Oxford North American alumni groups unite for successful webinar series
A trio of North American alumni groups have come together to successfully deliver a series of webinars.
OUS Mexico, OUS Ottawa, and OUS Washington, D.C are each organising a live online event for their Three Capitals Webinars series, open to all of the University’s alumni and friends.
OUS Washington, D.C held a discussion with John Tepper Marlin (Trinity, 1962), author of Oxford College Arms, who spoke about the Colleges’ heraldic bearings.
OUS Mexico then hosted Moritz Kraemer (Hertford, 2012), from the Oxford Martin Programme on Pandemic Genomics, who explored public policy measures directed at containing coronavirus.
OUS Ottawa will host the next event in December, with Mark Carney (St Peter’s and Nuffield), former Governor of the Bank of Canada and of the Bank of England.
“The pandemic has laid bare the reality that we can only hope to enjoy healthy, just, and prosperous lives, if we build a healthy, just, and prosperous world together,” said Akaash Maharaj (St Edmund Hall, 1990) of OUS Ottawa.
“We hope our collaboration will contribute to that mission, by strengthening the bonds between Oxonians on this side of the Atlantic.”
Find out more.
Spotlight on the Oxford Alumni Association in Mexico
Karine Yuki (St John’s, 2013), of the Oxford Alumni Association in Mexico, offers her perspective on the coronavirus pandemic and how the group has adapted over the past few months:
“COVID-19 has challenged each and every one of us, just about everywhere in the globe. For us at the Oxford Alumni Association in Mexico, our committee was split across Mexico, Brazil, Chile and the UK as many of us temporarily moved closer to our families. Geographically, we could not be further apart – but we have come together more than ever before to find strength, unity and resilience during the crisis.
Alongside our 450 members, we have proudly supported a donation drive from the Peterson Schools in Mexico to raise funds for 3D printed protective personal equipment . This included more than 11,000 visors for frontline health workers, which were sent to more than 12 hospitals offering free treatment of COVID-19 patients throughout the country.
We have also launched a professional mentorship and job posting initiative to support Oxford alumni who have lost their jobs . The initiative stemmed from a programme we started last year to support Mexican students applying to Oxford. Our expanded programme now has 15 mentors who have signed up to offer advice, support and connections to alumni seeking job opportunities.
More recently, we have also started a collaboration with alumni groups in Ottawa and Washington, D.C through the Three Capitals Webinars.
In many ways, we have been challenged to draw on our creativity and collaboration to respond to COVID-19 – and we are stepping up to that challenge in Mexico.”
To find out more, email the group.
Congratulations to Oxford alumni quiz champions in Canada!
OUS Alberta (Calgary) are celebrating being crowned quiz champions after their team beat Cambridge and the London School of Economics in the first virtual Alberta UK Alumni 'University Challenge' quiz.
The online event was held this summer in place of The British Consul General in Calgary’s traditional annual barbecue for the resident British university alumni groups.
Special guest, British High Commissioner to Canada, Susan le Jeune d'Allegeershecque, calling in from Ottawa, acted as Quiz Master.
The winning Oxford team was team captain Hasneen Karbalai (Somerville, 2010) who took part in season 43 of University Challenge in 2013; Michael Taylor (St Catherine’s, 1971), Jessie Hyslop (Hertford, 1979) and Aaron Logan (Jesus, 2020)
“After a closely fought match, Oxford was victorious!!” said Geoff Cowling (Balliol, 1997) of OUS Calgary.
“The High Commissioner is now considering rolling this successful and entertaining evening out across the country for alumni groups in other cities to enjoy!”
2019 Update Survey - a snapshot of alumni group activity
Thanks to all alumni groups who completed the 2019 Update Survey, which looked at group activity between 1 August 2018 and 31 July 2019.
Below is a summary of the results*, which we hope you will find useful. These are also available as a PDF report.
*Figures refer to percentages of the total number of groups who responded to the survey, rather than the total number of groups.
- 110 of 177 groups emailed (62%) completed the survey
- There are now almost 190 alumni groups in over 90 countries
- 44% are run jointly with Cambridge
- The newest groups are in the U.S – OUS Raleigh, OUS Charlotte and the Oxford Entrepreneurs Network (North America)
- More than 600 events were hosted by groups in 2019, with dinners and lunches being the most popular (68% of groups)
- More than a third of groups now hold freshers events
- 67% of groups recruit members primarily by word of mouth
- More than a third of groups now have between 100-250 members
- 10% of groups’ memberships has increased by over 50 members in a year
- Just over half of groups recruited new members primarily at events
(Please note that the activities listed below relate to the period 1 August 2018 and 31 July 2019)
- Dinners and lunches are the most popular events for groups - 68% said they held them
- 52% hosted a speaker from Oxford
- 50% held at least one drinks reception
- 49% organised at least one boat race event
- Some groups reported attendance figures of up to 900 (not unique attendees) across their events collectively for the year
- 22% of groups produce a newsletter for members
- 13% use social media as their primary method of communication with members
- Facebook is the most popular social media channel - 52% of groups have an account. Around 33% of those post monthly
- LinkedIn -25% have an account, nearly 75% of which post on an ad-hoc basis
- Twitter – 10% have an account, 46% of which post monthly, the remaining 54% posting on an ad hoc basis
- Instagram – 9% have an account, with 80% of those posting on an ad-hoc basis
- Some groups also reported using EventBrite, WeChat and WhatsApp
- The biggest challenge for groups is attendance at events, with 49% reporting this as their primary concern
- Nearly 40% said their biggest challenge was recruiting younger members, with 35% saying they faced challenges in recruiting members generally
- Other key challenges included succession planning (around 30% of groups), contacting alumni (33%) and organising events (26%)
Spotlight on the Cambridge-Oxford Alumni Club of Hungary (COACH)
Since reforming in 2018, the Cambridge-Oxford Alumni Club of Hungary (COACH) has been flourishing and now boasts around 350 members and a range of successful events.
The club hosted several prominent speakers, including the President of the European Court of Justice and Her Majesty's Ambassador to Hungary, convened annual dinners and science seminars - and even ventured into social wellbeing with ice skating and yoga sessions.
COACH has also successfully collaborated with organisations including the Hungarian Association of British Alumni (HABA), the Andrássy University Alumni Association and the Hungarian Alumni of the College of Europe on joint events including boat race and garden parties.
From the outset, COACH has strived to serve as a platform bringing together current students and alumni for the benefit of all members and, this spring, the club launched a mentoring programme. The programme is currently running online as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The programme aims to facilitate career advice, professional guidance and support along with the exchange of best practice. COACH members are matched with current students so as to inspire one other, exchange ideas and reflect on career goals, while maintaining a connection with their university.
To find out more, email the club.
OUS Cornwall Secretary Richard Cockram receives Distinguished Friend of Oxford award
Congratulations to OUS Cornwall Secretary, Richard Cockram (Brasenose, 1962), who has received the prestigious Distinguished Friend of Oxford award, for his work in supporting local alumni and also helping potential students to achieve their aspirations.
The award recognises the role of outstanding volunteers in having a positive and lasting impact on the wider collegiate University.
Richard emphasised that the work he does would not have been possible without the tremendous support of the Cornwall group’s committee.
Richard read Mathematics at Brasenose and is an example of how an alumnus can make a difference to local alumni and potential students, while supporting the University’s strategic priorities.
He has also been a generous supporter of the Brasenose Annual Fund since 2007.
'I’m not normally given to shows of emotion, but immediately after receiving the award from the Vice-Chancellor I felt tears in my eyes,' he said.
'I was sincerely moved to think that our efforts for the University here in Cornwall were deemed worthy of such an award.'
Recipients of the 2019 Awards were honoured at Meeting Minds in Oxford by the Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Louise Richardson, last September.
OUS Victoria committee member Elizabeth Beattie awarded MBE for services to education
Congratulations to OUS Victoria committee member Elizabeth Beattie (Keble, 1979), who has been awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours.
Elizabeth is a freelance writer and researcher and has been involved with OUS Victoria for more than 20 years, starting out as events coordinator. She was secretary of the group for just over 10 years and remains on the group’s committee.
Elizabeth received the award in recognition of her services to education and UK/Australia relations.
As group secretary, she worked to enhance the links between alumni and the University, and encourage prospective students to study at Oxford.
She has also focussed on facilitating the journey of freshers who are about to start at Oxford.
Elizabeth read Modern History at Keble and was one of the first women to study at the college.
'I am honoured and incredibly proud to receive this recognition,' she said.
'I have been supported by an amazing committee of alumni at OUS Victoria who have been so generous with their time. I value the friendships I have established across the society.
'My education and experience at Oxford has made an enormous difference to my life. Apart from my immediate degree in history, I learnt life skills, such as the ability to reason, how to problem-solve, resilience and flexibility.
'I am looking forward to continuing my strong association with the University.'
Group’s fundraising help realise student’s dream
An Australian alumni group’s fundraising efforts have helped realise first-class Harvard graduate and lightweight rower Jack Kelly’s dreams of studying at Oxford.
The Oxford University Society (OUS) of South Australia raised more than $10,000 to help support Jack to study for a DPhil in Engineering Science at St Edmund Hall by arranging a quiz night and silent auction in Adelaide.
The fundraising event at a packed Adelaide Rowing Club was backed by Jack’s old school, Prince Alfred College in South Australia, and family, friends and supporters as well as the Adelaide Rowing Club itself. OUS South Australia committee members helped find auction items, calling on wineries, businesses and politicians for help and donations.
Helen Ujvary (former-President of OUS South Australia) and committee member George Ujvary provided Jack (pictured right) with additional sponsorship support, whilst other committee members also provided mentoring and careers advice, as well as access to international contacts and relevant influential figures in the field.
Donations, entry tickets, a raffle and the auction helped raised more than $10,000 towards Jack’s tuition and expenses.
OUS South Australia President Prof Hilary Winchester said: 'Fundraising isn’t our usual practice, but we thought Jack was a worthy cause and we were pleased to help support him.
'We know in comparison to three years’ international student fees, accommodation and living expenses that $10,000 doesn’t go far.
'However, it’s good to know that, in combination with others, we may have been able to help him realise his ambitions.'
Despite family financial difficulties, Jack became the fifth generation Kelly to attend Prince Alfred College in South Australia and it was there his love of academia and rowing blossomed.
He went on to study for a BSc in Engineering Sciences at Harvard, where he also joined the prestigious rowing team. He gained selection onto the senior Australian Rowing Team in 2018, competing in the World Cup regattas in Austria and Switzerland.
Jack moved to Oxford in August and is now buckling down to his studies and training hard for the rowing season.
He said: 'I am truly grateful to OUS South Australia, who initialised the idea of having a fundraiser to help support my DPhil studies at Oxford.
'As an international student it is difficult to provide a financial guarantee with limited funding streams available to you, and having a fundraiser gave me the confidence to do so.
'For this coming year, I can now set my sights on my academic goals and sporting goals within Oxford which may not have been possible without the support of the Oxford alumni society.'
Read more about Jack Kelly