Bangor University lecturer Siân Pierce, who says she finds people “endlessly fascinating” and reminds her students to phone their families has won a national award.

Siân, a lecturer in Human Geography, has won an Inspire! Tutor Award after watching thousands of her students graduate in more than 20 years.

The awards celebrate the achievements of exceptional tutors and mentors in Wales who have shown outstanding passion and commitment to encourage, support and teach other adult learners to pursue their goals and transform their lives, whether it’s in their community or the workplace.

Run by Learning and Work Institute, with support from the Welsh Government, the awards reward outstanding individuals whose commitment, knowledge and communication skills have given adult learners the tools to transform their lives.

Siân, 61, joined the university’s staff in 1996 after 11 years spent as a civil servant, helping people with their benefit claims.

The experience, she says, encouraged the empathetic approach she uses every day with her students. She said: “It taught me to listen. When a student is in crisis, it can sometimes be what they are not telling you that’s important. I’ll ask them ‘is there something else you need to think about or talk about?’

“Also, in their first week at university, I keep on at them to phone their families – I tell them to involve those who have helped them in their learning journey.”

As senior tutor in the Environment section of the university’s School of Natural Sciences, Siân is in charge of pastoral support, making her a point of contact for more than 500 students, as well as staff.

She also runs the school’s Welcome Week programme, and for the Environment students is Peer Support and Employability Coordinator and Disability Tutor.

“I have a disability myself [Siân had major surgery 10 years ago and was unable to work for 16 months] and I tell some of the students who worry they’re not going to be able to finish their degrees that it’s going to be hard, but I understand the challenges that they face. I tell them that as a team we will encourage and help them on their journey: ‘Never give up – we’ll get you there!’

“We place a lot of emphasis on fieldwork within our degrees, much of which takes place in the uplands of Snowdonia. This can be a challenge for some of our students, but it’s the best feeling knowing that as a group of staff, we’ve fostered an inclusive environment in which all our students are able to engage with this work and get the most from their studies.”

Siân studied at the same university, gaining a degree in English and Sociology as a mature student when she was 35, later completing a post-graduate qualification in Social Science research and then moving into research as a geographer.

Having given up what was then regarded as a job for life, she struggled at first with the concept of being a student, but credits one of her lecturers for helping to get her on track.

She says: “He gave me the impetus to carry on, saying to me ‘You think the others know everything? Ask the questions they are all too afraid to ask’. So, I did and here I am, 30 years later, dispensing similar words of advice and encouraging them to hold on for their own breakthrough.”

Inspire! Adult Tutor nominations were invited for ‘outstanding individuals’ who give ‘over and above’ what is expected of them, from areas including higher education, further education, the workplace, community education and schools.

“University life can be full of distractions but our plan from day one, as a team (including our brilliant peer supporters), is to get every student through to their graduation ceremony,” said Siân, who praised the ‘excellent’ Student Services support team.

She added that working with these colleagues enables students to face the challenges on their journeys and has helped the school gain some of the highest retention rates in the university.

“A geography degree teaches you to think on your feet. Thanks to platforms like the Discovery Channel, you can travel the world – it’s more popular than ever. Most people when I tell them what I do, will say ‘it was my favourite subject at school.’ Human Geography is my passion. I find people endlessly fascinating.”

“I absolutely love what I do. The best thing is hugging my students on graduation day, talking to their families and saying ‘haven’t they done so well?’ Several years ago, I was delighted when a student introduced me as his second mum – to his own mum! It’s good to know that students’ families also appreciate what we do.”

Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education, said: “Good mentors are important at all stages of our lives. The role of an adult tutor comes with additional
challenges in helping someone returning to education achieve their goals.

“The Inspire! Tutor Awards are a great way to thank people like Siân whose skills, time and commitment continue to support so many journeys in learning, often with life-changing results.”
David Hagendyk, Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute, said: “‘Behind every successful adult learner are the tutors, lecturers and support staff who work every day to help individuals unlock their potential and fulfil their ambitions.

‘The Inspire! Tutor Awards are a fantastic opportunity to recognise the excellent work of the individual winners, as well as to thank everyone working in our colleges, universities, schools, workplaces and communities for their hard-work and dedication.”

The Inspire! Tutor Awards are funded by The Welsh Government and the European Social Fund and organised by the Learning and Work Institute Wales.

For more information about adult learning or becoming a tutor, call 0800 028 4844.