By BA Ying Visser
Always wonder what College Hall staff members were like in their student life? Together with the CH staff we will hop back in a time machine to their student years, and reminisce about their ambitions, dreams, and adventures. The series kick-offs with Mark Baldwin, the Student Life Officer of UCU.
What kind of student were you?
“I was a relaxed, happy, and committed student, and only serious when I needed to be. My attitude was very exploratory, and that took me down paths which sometimes detoured from the curriculum but revealed brilliant insights elsewhere.
I worked in a gallery for a year and then I studied History of Art at Manchester University between 1991-1994. There I was also a practicing artist (I still am) and very quickly got involved in the city’s cultural scene. I also ran the University Art Society with about 350 members and we arranged all kinds of improvised exhibitions and ‘guerilla’ art interventions throughout the town. I regarded the entire city as my classroom.”
How did you balance social life, school and sports?
“By trial and error, really. I just tried to feel my way through that balance and develop an intuition for it.
I remember socialising in all corners of the town and mixing with just as many non-students as fellow students, and loving the sometimes prickly vibe when our various cultures clashed.
For me, visiting the nearby surrounding countryside (the Peak District especially) was my main exercise, as I took the train to go hiking and climbing there frequently. I lacked the discipline for team sports but played lots of squash. I honestly don’t think I ever missed any class or exam and just did the all work I could within the time I had.”
Are there any things that you regret that happened during your student time?
“Nothing, really. I look back with great affection for the city, the era, the learning and people I was with.”
What were your ambitions back then?
“As I moved towards graduation, I wanted to stay somehow connected to the worlds of art and education, though not as a student or teacher! That was quite vague and made it tricky to make my ambitions concrete, but that was actually fine with me. In the end I created an opportunity for myself by drafting a completely new job at the University of Manchester and securing funds for it from an ‘Innovation in Higher Education’ centre, which led to my first true professional job. Everybody is different, but through this I learnt that improvisation and creativity worked better for me than planned ambition.“
Who was your idol?
“Maybe I was too iconoclastic for that!
I simply had great respect for my family and some important friends, and didn’t feel the need to look further than that.
As an artist and art history student, I definitely admired groundbreaking artists, but I did not idolize any of them.”
Did you have any idea back then about what you wanted to become?
“A Student Life Officer, of course! Hahaha! Not really – I had no clue that such jobs existed back then. My professional path in retrospect doesn’t show much organised thought, but I made the very most of opportunities which came along, and tried to create my own opportunities when they didn’t appear to be there. I remember finding this quite uncomfortable at times, but more recently I’ve learnt to draw important lessons from this by self-reflecting. It’s a cliché, but simply becoming happy through being challenged was my goal.”
Do you think students have it harder now?
“No. Students had problems in my day, they have problems now, and they’ll have problems in the future.
I do sometimes wonder about the mixed blessing of modern technology and social media and if the global connectivity we all have make it easier for today’s generation to take offense at something or have their feelings hurt by an online post. Earlier generations might have found it much easier to ignore unwanted or negative comments in the non-virtual world and just move on. That said, today’s possibilities for student mobility, instant access to online information and research materials, and vast infrastructures of support are greatly improved. It remains an open debate.”
How would you compare your student life to student life at UCU?
“My own experience in Manchester from 1991-1994 was very different to UCU in 2016 in many respects: different curriculum, different city, different moment in time, different political, economic and societal backdrop. The similarity is that, over-arching all those factors, then as now, there are generations of young people trying to make sense of themselves and their emerging abilities, and how to bring this to bear on the world around them.”
Finally, what would your advice for UCU Students be?
“Well, perhaps Dr Seuss said it all in ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”.
Something I would add: while you continue developing, learning and adopting new challenges, and in your efforts to inspire others, try also to be as accepting of yourself and other as you can, without judgement. Oh, and there’s also not much in life that cannot be improved by taking it slightly less seriously.”