Written by Gemma Bradshaw
“I consider City to be the place which has provided the most significant influence on my life”
This year, Alan Parish is celebrating his sixtieth year as a staff member at City.
Reflecting on his time at the University, from his very first steps inside the then Northampton College of Advanced Technology as a student in 1958, to today, Alan recalls tales from the Student Rag, his work in External Relations and Examinations, and completing close to 400 City graduation ceremonies as University Mace Bearer.
Looking to the future, Alan comments:
Everything will be different in the coming months or years, depending on when Covid-19 is defeated. However, as the President would say, “We will have progressed”, and I have no doubt that everything at City will improve, until its ranking in the world is as high as possible.
What are your memories of joining City in the 60s, the then Northampton College of Advanced Technology?
The first time I set foot inside City (in those days the Northampton College of Advanced Technology), was September 8th 1958, straight from an apprenticeship with the General Electric Company. I was studying Light Engineering, in the Department of Electrical Engineering. I still remember my first lecture on Power Engineering, specifically electric motors.
In that first term, every new student took part in the Student Rag, which involved wearing fancy dress and walking around London to find such things as a six-inch nail and who was on the end of a telephone number. This was somebody from the Students’ Union who had been briefed to make the call as stupid as possible.
Anyone who didn’t take part in the Rag was dumped in the horse trough, (which still sits on the pavement opposite the old Blacksmith & The Toffee Maker pub on St John Street), or thrown into the old College Building swimming pool.
What was your first staff role at City, and tell us about your roles over the years?
After not passing my exams in my first year, the Head of Department, Dr Soper, recommended that I join the staff as a technician and spend one day a week repeating the course for a second time. I gladly accepted this suggestion and started as a member of staff on the following day, not realising that I would remain a staff member for sixty years.
My roles have changed over the years – and have included Experimental Officer, Examinations Officer, School Archivist and University Mace Bearer.
In 1986 I was asked to help the Departmental Examinations Officer who was struggling to provide the necessary service for an increasing number of courses within the School of Engineering. This was a great development because I became involved with examinations procedures for the remainder of my full-time employment at the University. I eventually took over as Departmental Examinations Officer and continued to develop methods of displaying results for members of the various Examination Boards. I was responsible for storing every examination mark and every coursework mark for every Electrical Engineering student so that I could produce comprehensive spreadsheets for the examination boards for each course. This was so successful that I was asked to do the same work for all Mechanical Engineering students and later for all MSc students.
Later, I was approached by the Head of External Relations to be a Clerical Assistant where I stayed for five years. I worked on the development of the alumni database, where I invented a system of data cleaning.
I was then asked to take back my old role as Examinations Officer. I left External Relations in 2000 and started 11 years in what I consider to be the most gratifying period of my employment in the University. My work not only involved keeping students’ marks but producing final examination papers for the academic staff. This involved formatting, liaising with the examiners and ensuring that they were satisfied with the adjustments made, dealing with examination timetables and sorting out problems which inevitably arise during the examination periods. For one resit session I had to produce 182 properly formatted examination papers.
Since 1996 I have acted as the University Mace Bearer at Graduation following an invitation from the Ceremonial Officer. This became a regular job and I have now completed 392 such ceremonies at the London Guildhall, at Southwark Cathedral, at the Methodist Central Hall and at the Barbican Centre.
Have there been any challenges along the way?
Probably my most challenging time at the University occurred in 2004 when the new computer system SITS was introduced. While far superior to the old system, I found the new system so complicated that it became impossible to use without experts being involved. It was a shame because SITS was obviously an improvement, but I felt the way it was introduced left a lot to be desired.
How has it felt to see thousands of City students graduate over the years?
It always gives me a sense of pride to represent the University every time I take part in graduation ceremonies. There is something magical about being watched by people all over the world, either in person or virtually.
Even when at different venues, the ceremonies are almost identical. But the occasional ‘problem’, such as a rolling mace one time at the Barbican Centre and a fire evacuation at the Guildhall, all add to the experience of taking part in such grand events.
What has been the stand-out highlight of your career at City?
There have been two real highlights of my career at City. One was the occasion when I played the organ for a graduation ceremony at St Bartholomew-the-Great Church in Smithfield, to several hundred people. I felt very important as I knew if anything went wrong it would be noticed. As it happened, everything went particularly well.
The other highlight was being congratulated by the Examination Board Chairman after each board meeting after my spreadsheets had been considered, following months of work to get them finalised.
And a highlight from your life outside City?
Having gone as far as I wanted to in engineering, I started to concentrate on working towards a degree in music. I took postal lessons and then private lessons at Trinity College of Music. I consider appearing in front of the Queen Mother at the Royal Albert Hall in 1971 to be the highlight of my life. After that, I took several music diplomas and ended up with one either for teaching or general musicianship from each of the major London music colleges.
What does City mean to you in a few words?
Having worked for only two organisations in my career, the General Electric Company for three years, and City for sixty, it is no surprise that I consider City to be the place which has provided the most significant influence on my life. I have gained so many skills at City which I have appreciated so much.