Image collage, dream big projectThursday 20 June 2019 saw the first Dream Big Project implemented at the University of Bolton, in collaboration with Hopwood Hall and Bolton College. The day was the result of my level 7 research project entitled, “Widening the Participation of ESOL Students in Higher Education (HE) Using Authentic Inspirational Experiences”, and the accumulation of months of committed professional practice.

The project, a one-day induction event offering ESOL students an opportunity to engage with and participate in aspiration building HE experiences, began with a brief welcome and an introduction to the aims of the project; to encourage learners to actively engage in motivation building practices and consider long-term progression routes into HE.

The systematically designed itinerary took influence from the critical evaluation of similar event predecessors and an extensive literature review in order to cultivate the most prosperous series of events and ensure students benefitted from the entirety of the University’s state of the art facilities, leading experts and existing compassionate student populous. Throughout the day, students were able to discuss ‘student life’ with subject experts experienced within their desired undergraduate subject study, partook in practical workshops, engaged in industry demonstrations and orientated the University through team-building exercises.

As well as the ‘fun’ side of the project, students were made to think sincerely about the alternative routes into HE throughout the ‘Access to HE Talk’ and facilitated to create meaningful, achievable and aspirational goals for both the short and long term. Students were provided with a series of the University of Bolton and Greater Manchester Higher literature, advising students on areas including the application process, student funding and fees and mental health and well-being support. Students responded well the tangible resources, as well as offering positive feedback on the event evaluation sheets which resulted in 94% of participants responding good or excellent in all areas and individuals reporting feeling ‘more informed about applying to university and the alternative routes into HE’.

On a professional level, the event offered me invaluable leadership experience and secured my ambition to further my academic and professional career as well as continue to research within the area of widening participation. On a personal level, the Dream Big Project 2019 uncovered areas of my identity I had not previously activated, as it required me to be assertive, firm and sincere, but it also allowed me to be confident, excited and proud. I hope the event continues to prosper and is replicated year on year, contributing further to the widening of participation at the University of Bolton and globally within the field of HE.

It is with thanks to Sarah Telfer and Laura O’Brien for affording me the opportunity to lead on the project and the numerous University of Bolton, Hopwood Hall College and Bolton. College staff and students whom without, the project would not have been achievable.

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