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100 Pupils Experience Life as an Oxford Undergraduate at Pembroke Access Week

9th August 2017

On 30th July Pembroke welcomed more than one hundred pupils for Access Week 2017. The young people from the OxNet schools network, who have participated in various academic courses and events in London, the North West and the North East, came to Pembroke for a week-long residential which is the culmination of these programmes. They were joined this year by delegates from India and the United States.

Participants spent the week studying and living in College and were hosted by undergraduates who acted as mentors and advisers, and postgraduates and Fellows who taught them. The courses of study for the week included Science, Humanities, Theology, and The Ordered Universe Project (an interdisciplinary project focused on the work of a medieval scientist).  With the intentions of replicating a ‘week in the life’ of a Pembroke undergraduate, during an initial tutorial, an essay was set for humanities students and a poster presentation for those taking a science programme.


Participants pictured on Chapel Quad, Pembroke College. Image: Rob Judges.

At the end of the week Pembroke hosted a prize giving ceremony, at which the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Professor Louise Richardson, presented students who performed particularly strongly throughout the programme with an award.


Prize-winners pictured with University of Oxford Vice-Chancellor Prof. Louise Richardson and Access Fellow Dr Peter Claus. Image: Rob Judges.

The pupils also undertook special option sessions, which aimed to open up areas of college life and topics beyond their discipline of interest.  For instance, there were talks open to all about migration, rare books and manuscripts, environmental history and Italian literature.  Dr Katarzyna Kosior, Raising Aspirations Oxnet Coordinator for the North-East, remarked: I think that the multidisciplinary of the summer school made them all think differently about their own interests and inspired them to go outside of their comfort zone when exploring the topics given.’

Participants agreed that having the Durham-based Ordered Universe research group on site enlivened and enriched their experience. The benefit was mutual, as Dr Giles Gasper, Project Principal Investigator commented: 'The week advanced our research, as well as challenging and inspiring the students. To all students on the course, a linking theme of collaboration, identity and the place of humans within the universe, gave a real sense of purpose and academic endeavour. I can't wait for next year.'

Collaborative session led by Dr Giles Gasper

Another highlight of the week was the presence of artist-in-residence, Alexandra Carr, who is currently working collaboratively with the Ordered Universe. She created a site-specific installation, titled ‘Ether’, in the Damon Wells Chapel, explaining:

'Ether was produced with intentionally limited time and materials as an exercise in creativity within constraints. After establishing the medium and process, a repetitive and almost meditative installation began. Days later, after 12km of nylon thread had been woven, spun and hung within the architecture of the chapel, a video projected through the piece brought Ether to life. As the video moves through the colour spectrum Ether flickers and pulses with various hues, almost as an apparition floating in space.'


Alexandra Carr, ‘Ether’, nylon thread and light projection, The Damon Wells Chapel (2017). Image: Rob Judges.

For almost a decade Pembroke has been delivering academically-driven residential schools, but, as Pembroke Access Fellow and Lecturer in History Dr Peter Claus commented, ‘this was the first year when we reached a number that could plausibly be said to represent an 'alternative college' working to meet serious and ambitious academic goals in keeping with our reputation…’

Dr Claus continued: ‘The key to what I think was perhaps our most successful Access Week yet were the themes provided by the Ordered Universe research project and the engagement of undergraduates, postgraduates and Fellows from across the collegiate University as well as from Durham University. I hope that this provides a model of how we might work as 'One Oxford' to engage with cross-disciplinary, cross-collegiate, multi-university projects on similar high impact widening access events.’