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Alumna recalls how Brunel played a large part in her development

Marcella Phelan MBE .

I would highly recommend Brunel - it is a great and inclusive place, with great people and an innovative, cutting edge, critical approach to learning and personal development.

Marcella Phelan MBE, Alumni

Assistant Director for Children and Families, Ealing Council

Public & Social Administration MA / Professional Social Work Qualification / Government, Politics & Modern History BSc - 1988 and 1978

From UK

Tell us about your career journey since you graduated…

I qualified with a 2:1 in Government, Politics and Modern History in 1978 and jointly a Professional Social Work qualification. I was seconded by Hillingdon Council and worked there as a newly qualified Social Worker - I then progressed into management whilst undertaking an MA in Public Services part time at Brunel. I continued to progress over 30 years with Ealing Council, rising to become Assistant Director for Children and Families. I received an MBE for Services to Young People in London in 2018.

What does an average day at work involve for you?

Lots of variation! Meeting staff and children and young people. Overseeing the services I directly manage such as Early Years, Youth Services, Leaving Care and Youth Justice. Also having a lead role in delivering wider corporate council priorities such as employment, regeneration and housing. Lots of reports, preparing funding bids, getting ready for Ofsted Inspections and thinking up with colleagues innovative ways of delivering better outcomes with less resources!

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

Improving the life chances and opportunities of young people leaving care and also increasing the jobs and opportunities for vulnerable young people previously engaged in youth offending. This was achieved by using my frontline social work, management and partnership networking skills developed at Brunel as an undergraduate and postgraduate. Also being able to identify, motivate and lead teams of dynamic staff and build a successful culture that listened to young people. As a result we have some of the best outcomes nationally for Care Leavers including the highest numbers going on to University.

How would you say Brunel helped you to get where you are today?

Brunel played the biggest part in my development. I spent 4 years as an undergraduate and a further 2 years (part time) 10 years later as a postgraduate student learning theory and translating it into practice, particularly on the work placements. It opened up ideas, helped me keep up to date with the latest research and evidence based practice. More than that it gave me time and reflection to develop my own personal views and values that have served me well throughout a long and successful career.

Why did you choose to study at Brunel and why would you recommend Brunel to others?

I was attracted by the 4 year Sandwich Course model and its flexibility, as I was ready to work as well as study at the age of 18! The Master’s Degree in Public Policy 10 years later offered a brilliant, local opportunity to again combine work and study but update my skills and learning and take them to the next level as I began to progress into management. I would highly recommend Brunel - it is a great and inclusive place, with great people and an innovative, cutting edge, critical approach to learning and personal development.

What is your best memory of studying here?

I loved the Library and the modern feel of the campus and the whole University. I was very active in student politics and many of the most memorable events involve starting to participate and develop campaigning skills for many of the political challenges in the 70s and 80s. These skills have also been very useful in my career - speaking out, preparing a case, organising, strategic planning, and winning the argument!

If you could give one piece of advice to new students, what would that be?

Take advantage of the informal as well as the formal learning opportunities. Don't just join for the lectures and then go home - get involved in campus life; e.g. Students’ Union, clubs, and societies. It's a unique and incredible time in your life as an undergraduate or postgraduate - networking, friendships and trying something new are all available and can be as valuable as formal learning and will be useful throughout your career. Participate and enjoy it all!

What would be your top tip or advice for new graduates as they begin their career journey?

Keep in touch with Brunel, your department and networks and take every opportunity to consolidate your learning as you progress. I've gone back to formal study every 10 years to refresh my learning and update my skills; e.g. BSc, then MA 10 years later then an MBA in General Management 10 years after that. Also don't forget that when you graduate it's just the start of your career so it's important to be keen, enthusiastic, creative and committed - but also, don't forget to ask for help and maintain a work / life balance to sustain you in the long-term.