These last few weeks have been a blur of activity at the UTC, both during the college working day and afterwards at a raft of evening events.
I have had the pleasure of working alongside my colleagues in the classroom as we explore our teaching, sharing our strengths and supporting one another as we experiment with new methods and techniques. I’ve enjoyed meeting new businesses; many who strive to develop their science-based workforce and who are keen to collaborate with our students and staff. We have hosted numerous guest lecturers, including the oldest pilot from the Vulcan aircraft, a spell-binding raconteur who spoke to our aviation students. Our students have been shortlisted for national awards, prestigious scholarships and invited to join businesses to pursue potential career pathways. Can working life get more exciting than this?
On top of all this, every evening last week provided an opportunity to meet with a new group of business partners. The week began with the Newark and Sherwood Business Awards, where I was truly inspired by advice on business success by the winner of the Lifetime Award. The week was beautifully rounded off by an invitation to the Institute of Directors Business Lunch.
What made it all the more special was that three of our UTC students were also invited to attend: to meet business directors and to seek new opportunities for collaboration. They enjoyed networking, sharing their UTC experiences and gaining opportunities for work experience. It was a distinctly proud moment for me to watch 14 and 16-year-old students hold their own in the world of business leadership – they have such potential to do great things.
During this week I had the pleasure of taking assembly for the whole college; I love this time to share and reflect on key aspects of our lives that I feel are most critical to our personal development. I chose to explore something that I am very passionate about: comfort zones. Not merely staying within them, but exploring where the edges of our personal comfort zones lie.
Ten years ago I jumped out of a plane for my first skydive, a truly comfort zone-stretching experience which made me realise that there simply were no limits to what I could attempt and achieve. The following year, a 30th birthday led to thirty challenges and the result meant that I had undertaken adventurous, culinary, mind blowing challenges that stretched my comfort zone in all directions.
It made me realise that we can never say that opportunities are not out there for us. They certainly are – we just need to open our eyes, our hearts and our minds to the possibility that we can attempt them. Life is so rich when you throw away the shackles of normality and truly stretch your thinking.
My assemblies this week focused on the zone where I am today, ten years later, with forty challenges ahead of me. I’m not sure what happened, but Christmas has jumped out from nowhere and surprised me — one minute I was starting to think about buying chocolate advent calendars for the kids and the next minute, I’m about to miss the final deadline for second-class mail delivery. However, my forty challenge planning has been much more successful: physical adventures to push me to my limits; psychological challenges to stretch my mind and my thinking; random experiences, to enrich my life in so many ways.
I’m excited about the road ahead and the challenges that I have placed along the way. I hope, after my assemblies, some students will be joining me to explore their comfort zones, enriching their lives as they do so.
So, the countdown to my forty challenges is underway, with the first two commencing exactly a month early on Christmas Eve. They include my first ever skiing and cross country skiing experience, and it is nearly time to start packing and preparing for the adventure. I have all the kit and caboodle, so let’s hope my lessons as a nearly-40 year-old on the slopes with baby beginners are not too embarrassing. After all, there is no growth without challenge and no living without learning, and I fully intend to be growing and learning for many decades to come!
Dr. Rona Mackenzie is Principal of Lincoln University Technical College (UTC). She has a strong background in education, having worked in six local authorities during her career, and is passionate about providing an education that meet the needs of young people and their community industries. She is a keen sportswoman and mountaineer, recently trekking to Everest Base Camp, and has an interest in photography.