A Day in the Life of… a Student Support Manager
In our feature series A Day in the Life Of…, we introduce some of our people on the front lines at Unite Students, working to make students’ accommodation experience the best it can be.
This time, our interviewee is Jenny Dalzell, the Student Support Manager for Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham, who has been with us for two and a half years. You can watch an edited version of the interview on YouTube.
Q: Tell me about what a typical day in the life of a Student Support Manager might entail at Unite Students.
A: There isn’t one, if I’m totally honest! We’re dealing with different things every day. But things that we do on a daily basis include supporting the operational teams with anything wellbeing-related that might be occurring in the properties, and providing a good service to students when they have wellbeing concerns.
We also have a responsibility around building relationships with our Higher Education partners, especially the Student Support Manager contacts within the university to ensure we have good connections with them and can ensure students get support from them as quickly as they can. Some of our days additionally involve training staff to ensure that they are equipped to respond to any wellbeing concerns that may occur in the buildings – I recently wrote about our Mental Health First Aid training and how this can be used to help the students who live with us.
Tell me about some of the more unusual situations you’ve had to respond to in student support.
In student support, we respond to a whole host of different scenarios and situations, as you can imagine. Recently we’ve launched our new support animals policy, and we see some weird and wonderful requests for support animals – we’ve had snakes, tarantulas, jellyfish… and the list goes on! So we do make sure we assess those appropriately before we say yes or no to having those animals in our properties.
I have to ask – jellyfish?!
It’s because their movements are relaxing. We get asked about fish quite a lot because the way they move around is relaxing to watch, particularly for autistic students – it’s calming. Hamsters are quite a common request too, as they’re easy to look after and they live in a cage.
We’re starting to approve more support animal requests; previously, we would have approved guide dogs and nothing else, but there are so many different categories for support animals. Doctors encourage people to get a support animal, and if they provide us with all the right evidence, we’re starting to say yes to them – if it’s appropriate!
What’s your favourite thing about working for Unite Students?
My favourite thing has to be the people. I say this to every new starter that I come across: my first impression of Unite Students was so good because everybody that I came across was so helpful and welcoming, and so it really is the people that make the company.
What has surprised you most in your time working here?
What surprised me the most is the whole range of wellbeing concerns that the teams do respond to, and the fact that the students feel so comfortable and so confident in disclosing those details to our staff. It’s obviously great that the students do feel they can come to us – but it did surprise me when I first started, the whole breadth of incidents that the team were dealing with.
What’s the number one thing you would share with anyone looking to work in student support?
One of the most important parts about the Student Support Manager role, and for many of the frontline roles within Unite, is to ensure that we do maintain our boundaries around student support – knowing how far we can go, and when it’s appropriate to signpost a student or escalate any concerns that we have. Maintaining those professional boundaries with students is really important in order to help them succeed and access the right level of support.