Degree Apprentice in Focus: Marissa Bidwell
Marissa Dunlop, a Chartered Manager Degree Apprentice at the University of Exeter, talks about her experience on the course.
I am currently midway through undertaking the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship with the University of Exeter. I work for an independent training provider, which delivers vocational courses to students aged 16+ and in 2019 I was promoted to my current role as Deputy Principal and Programme Manager.
Being a small organisation, my role involves adopting many hats within the business, from finance to marketing, strategy to policy writing, as well as overseeing curriculum and meeting relevant bodies requirements. I am also Equality, Diversity and Inclusion lead and deputy safeguarding lead. I was still new to my current role when the pandemic struck and following the resignation of the business manager a few months later, my responsibilities evolved to focus more and more on the business decisions and strategy and I had a real sense of imposter syndrome compounded by my rather unconventional career path.
Marissa Playing Truly Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, UK tour 2005. Photo by Alistair Muir.
For many years, I worked as a performer within the performing arts industry, predominantly playing leading roles in West End productions. After having children, I transitioned first into teaching and then was gradually promoted internally to my current position. Increasingly, I felt all my knowledge was experiential, and this impacted my confidence, especially in decision-making and risk assessment. I have always had a real thirst for learning and problem solving and, working within education, I was aware of degree apprenticeships. I realised these might provide an opportunity for me to earn and progress in my career while studying. When I found the University of Exeter’s Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA), I was drawn to the intensive structure of the course as well as the University of Exeter’s reputation.
Balancing studies alongside a busy work life has absolutely been challenging and even harder than I imagined but there are so many positives. I am gaining the knowledge, skills and confidence quickly and can immediately apply these and see their impact in my daily activities. My top tip for time management to anyone considering a degree apprenticeship would be not to focus too far ahead as it can be overwhelming. Instead, prioritise tasks into manageable chunks and remember to schedule time for breaks to prevent brain overload. For me, taking a walk away from a screen is often when I have my best ideas!
Now I am at the courses’ midpoint, the impact the course is having on me, my colleagues and the organisation is really starting to emerge. I have been able to identify not only my areas of development but also acknowledge my existing strengths: for example, coaching, mentoring and leadership. As I have progressed through the modules, my confidence has grown so that I am able to constructively challenge and implement new processes and structures. The new knowledge not only benefits teams in practical ways, but also within soft skills such as interpersonal and active listening skills. I have implemented cost efficient ways of working that have increased productivity and improved communication for the whole training provider.
It has been really rewarding making a difference to the triple bottom line of the organisation with my work-based project, an outreach programme within local schools discovering new ways of collaborating that better support students from lower socio-economic backgrounds as well as help raise awareness of my organisation. Already we are seeing significant increases of up to 700% in numbers participating in open day events.
Making the decision to start this course has been one of the best decisions of my career.
My initial hopes were that the course would give me more confidence and theoretical knowledge to support my existing experience-based learning. However, the course has helped me to achieve all this and more: it has changed me as a person (just ask my kids!). My emotional and social intelligence has flourished and I can manage stress far more effectively. I had thought perhaps I had reached my limit with regards to career progression but the apprenticeship has given me renewed ambition and direction and I am excited for future opportunities.
The support from the University of Exeter Business School’s team has been fantastic and so reassuring. Module lecturers, mentors and the admin team are accessible and available for 1:1s. Additional resources such as Studiosity, have been invaluable to support returning to academic writing and although delivered online because of COVID-19, there is a real sense of community between the cohort. I would highly recommend anyone considering undertaking a degree apprenticeship to just go for it. Not only can it open doors for you within your career and benefit your organisation, but also your own personal growth.
The apprenticeship has given me renewed ambition and direction and I am excited for future opportunities.
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