This prestigious award was newly-created for 2016 and is named after Alan Jenkins, our Managing Director who sadly passed away in 2015.
It is a tribute to the values that he held dear, and is to be awarded every year to the graduate we believe has the most inspirational study experience story.
The prize-winner may have struggled through difficult personal circumstances to complete their course, or they might have been able to use their degree to change their working life and climb the career ladder – either way, this is about recognising the student that we feel most embodies our values, and whose story can motivate and inspire both current and future students.
This year, we chose to award this prize to MBA graduate Aisha Legge, who inspired everyone on the judging panel with her determination and dedication to study, despite many personal and professional obstacles.
Read our interview with Aisha, and then watch the award presentation…
What is your education background?
My education was in the UK and I worked in an accounting background before moving to the United Arab Emirates in 1999. I raised 4 children then retrained in CIPD and CELTA to become a training specialist.
Why did you decide to start studying?
I’d wanted to study for some time and I actually applied a year before I started, but at that time online-based studies weren’t accredited here in UAE so I postponed it. As a Learning and Development Specialist, what kind of example am I setting if I don’t even attempt to develop myself! It was also vital to me to set a good example to my kids, raising them as a single mum working full time I wanted them to see you are never too old to finish your education.
Why did you choose online study specifically, rather than just studying on a campus?
For me it was a no brainer; as I mentioned I’m a single mum to 4 children and working full time too so studying full time or at a campus that would take me away from home just wasn’t an option for me.
Why did you choose the University of Essex Online?
I checked the UAE Ministry of Higher Education website and Essex was one of the ones that came up as accredited by them for online studies. I also knew that University of Essex has a good reputation.
Why did you choose your course?
As an L&D specialist, HR is in my related field and would broaden my knowledge and skills base.
What did you enjoy about the course?
Honestly, most of all the fantastic friendships and relationships that I’ve made. On the first day at the taster session I formed a WhatsApp group and several people joined. We followed that by meetups at my home here in Abu Dhabi where my fellow students came with their families. I was the only girl in the cohort at that time so it was lovely to meet the wives and for my kids to meet theirs. Now our group has grown in number to 16, some recently graduated with me and some are still on their journey but we graduates are sticking around to continue to support those still studying. Academically, the freedom was what I needed, not being tied down to classes that would take me away from my kids. I liked the chance to self-discipline my studies then I had no one to blame if a deadline rolled around and I hadn’t finished the work – so the pressure was on me!
Have you had to overcome any personal or professional obstacles in order to complete your studies?
More than you know honestly! As I mentioned I am divorced and throughout the last year of my studies I went through hell with my ex husband who tried to take custody of my children. Thankfully, thank god, he failed but going through that and studying at the same time was pretty hellish. That being said I was grateful for my MBA studies as a distraction from the stress in my personal life. Also, during the 2nd year of studying my organisation underwent restructure and a merger so that was very stressful not knowing where our jobs would be. It has been a tough time and looking back on it I have no clue how I got through but I did and I’m 100% sure it’s due to the love and support I got from my WhatsApp group friends and the Essex/Kaplan team.
What is your job title? And what do you do on a day-to-day basis?
I’m currently Learning and Development Manager for the homeland security provider for the UAE. I am responsible for providing technical and soft skills training solutions to both the parent holding company that I work out of and our 15 subsidiary companies as well. I also conduct the LNA/TNA and formulate the budget for board approval. Alongside this I sit on the disciplinary committee. I am also President of the Parent Council for my 2 younger daughters’ school……I’m kept pretty busy!
Has the content you have learnt within the course been useful within your career? And if so, could you give an example of how/where you used the knowledge learnt?
Yes, for sure, if it hadn’t been I’d be very worried! Whilst not my strongest module, the marketing module was a whole new ball game for me and I learnt a lot there. As L&D specialists we are often in the business of hard selling ourselves to senior management and to the people we want to put on training so seeing this as a marketing venture and learning about that field of business was very interesting for me.
What are your plans for the future?
To continue my professional and personal development, I’d like to do the next level CIPD for starters! I hope that in time I will gain a promotion to Senior L&D Manager too, god willing. At the end of the MBA I said I’d never study again but I already found myself researching more study options and wouldn’t rule out maybe doing another MBA or something similar in the future (god help my sanity!).
What does winning the Alan Jenkins Memorial Award 2016 mean to you?
I was totally shocked when I got the call to say I’d won, I’ve never won anything before! It’s a great honour of course and I’m very privileged to be the first ever recipient of the award. There have been so many moments on my MBA journey where I’ve almost let my self-doubt and lack of self-confidence take over me but with the support I received I pushed through and this award just made me so proud of myself and the fact I never gave up even in the darkest days. I am sharing and dedicating this award with my peers, my children and my colleagues who have supported and encouraged me. My peers in the WhatsApp group who were there at the end of the phone whenever any of us was having doubts or a hard time getting to deadlines, we are a family now believe me! It’s just amazing and I wish you could come to one of the BBQs we hold at my home!
Do you have any advice or tips you would like to pass on to our current and future students?
Believe in yourself! Trust yourself! There will be times you think ‘OMG what have I done!’, there will be times you’ll think you are going insane or that the pressure is too much but trust me if this old lady can do an MBA at the age of 43 there is hope for everyone and I firmly believe everyone should always try and develop themselves as much as they can. In my religion we are told to “read” and we interpret this to mean we should never stop learning. We also say that god will never give us more than we can handle or bear and I firmly believe in that as well!
If I can do it, you can do it!
Watch the award being presented
On behalf of everyone at University of Essex Online, we’d like to offer our congratulations to Aisha again!