LIMELIGHT INTERVIEW WITH JENNY WILKINSON
One Woman, Countless Hats
Jenny Wilkinson sits down with us to discuss her professional experience as the Director of Student Recruitment and Business Development at London Metropolitan University. She explains the steps she has taken to accomplish her achievements and her perspectives on music, upcoming projects, and being a woman in business.
As Jenny Wilkinson reminisces about her time interviewing women Vice Chancellors for her MBA dissertation, she mentions how grateful she was “just being able to sit with these amazing women… I was a bit starstruck just listening to their stories”. She does not realize that being given the opportunity to sit down with her can render anyone else just as starstruck.
Wilkinson, who has been working at London Metropolitan University for three years -- and assumed three separate positions in that time -- has been a voice for international education and climate change activism since her time in college.
Hat 1: Music as a Driver for Social Change
She completed her undergraduate degree in music with a specialism in voice and this continues to play a large role in her life. As a first-generation university student, Wilkinson’s driver was using music as a tool for social justice, which she now does at London Metropolitan Brass (no connection to the university).
“I want a community music organization that’s free for anyone,” she says, “[where] we teach for free, we give free instruments, we play together for the joy of it, and nobody ever gets kicked out because they’re not good enough.”
In the past eight years, Wilkinson and her team have educated over 200 players, most of whom are adults seeking community. “Loneliness is a huge thing in big cities,” Wilkinson notes, “[people’s] individual stories really have the biggest impact”.
London Metropolitan Brass has provided this education for countless individuals… From recent college graduates to retirees, anyone who wants to become a part of this community, regardless of musical experience is encouraged to. “You can’t just be around the same kinds of people all the time,” Wilkinson notes.
The passion she holds for social impact and community engagement directly translates to Wilkinson’s additional professional career at London Metropolitan University where she currently holds the title as the Director of Student Recruitment and Business Development. Her professional involvement in international education also dates back to her time as a university student.
Hat 2: Study Abroad and London Metropolitan University
As an undergraduate “I wandered into a building just to get warm and happened on a study abroad fair,” Wilkinson explains, “I’d never been on a plane before… I just took a leap”. She went on to study abroad at McGill in Montreal, Canada which she says “sparked my love for travel”.
Upon graduation, Wilkinson thought back on what brought her joy in college, and other than her degree in music, she thought of her time abroad. This led to her first job in the International Office at King’s College London, followed by her time at Queen Mary working as a study abroad officer then at the University of Roehampton. She continues to seize opportunities that present themselves to her due to her hard work and incentive and now looks after a much wider portfolio at London Met.
She strives to provide international opportunities for non-traditional students. “It’s not just for 19-year-old white girls; which, let’s face it, is what a large amount of traditional study abroad is,” she states. 92% of students at London Metropolitan have at least one underrepresentation marker and Wilkinson pushes to ensure that these students will be given access to the same study abroad opportunities as she was.
Currently, “Our institution is probably the most socially diverse in the UK so we are working with institutions like HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in the US on developing various partnerships both for research exchange and for student projects to try and kind of have this bilateral knowledge exchange and understand how do we replicate that success for our students with underrepresented backgrounds on our campus?” Wilkinson is playing an active role in this project and silently seems to indicate that work like this is representative of what London Met stands for as an institution.
She describes London Met as a unique and special place to be and believes that adjusting to any more traditional institution would be very difficult after working there. “The people that you meet… everyone is so passionate about their agenda. You can’t work at London Met if you don’t want to change the world basically.” She further describes the institution as “driven by passion to make change for our students.”
Hat 3: Gendered Leadership and MBA Dissertation
Wilkinson brings these values of passion and thirst for change into her MBA dissertation which she has been working on over the past year and just finished this past September. After having to shift her topic when the pandemic hit, she decided to conduct her dissertation on the experiences of women Vice Chancellors and Deputy Vice Chancellors during the pandemic and how they had approached leadership during the crisis.
Through her work, she examines the ideas of gendered leadership and questions whether or not the women she interviewed identified with those concepts. She describes these interviews with immense pride and gratitude noting how fortunate she was to be able to interview these accomplished women in business.
This dissertation topic directly overlaps into Wilkinson’s career as, she too, is a successful woman in a predominantly male-dominated industry. “I think I’ve probably worked harder because I’ve felt like I have to prove myself every single day,” she says “I’m here because I’ve worked really hard.”
“It’s given me more drive, and it’s made me work harder and now I’m at the point that … I don’t really care as much what other people think,” she states, “But, certainly, ten years ago, even five years ago, I really struggled with that.” Wilkinson’s achievements and position in her career speak for themselves and, arguably, the exposure she has to the inequalities that accompany being a woman in business allow her to push even harder for change. This translates in her constant push for activism throughout her career.
Hat 4: Climate Change and PhD
Upon finding passion in international education, Wilkinson began to recognize that she is culpable for traveling so frequently which, in itself, contributes to climate change. She immediately began to think about how to fix this issue and quickly realized that there is not much data surrounding climate change and its relationship to travel. “No one has the data to help make informed decisions in higher education,” she states.
This revelation encouraged Wilkinson to study for her PhD and she now says that there is much more being published on the subject since a year ago when she started. She wants to create a framework that universities can use to demonstrate social and educational impact of travel, allowing students to continue engaging in international learning opportunities whilst balancing their responsibilities around climate action. There are too many international programs that willfully fail to take into account sustainability and too many sustainability programs that willfully fail to take into account internationalization.
“I love being given a problem and sitting down and figuring out how to solve it,” Wilkinson admits. Her passion for problem solving coupled with her drive to bring international education to a wider audience as well as her voice in modern-day activism is precisely what makes Wilkinson such a unique and inspiring person to sit down with.
With completing her PhD in the not-too-distant future, Jenny Wilkinson does not cease to render any interviewer or peer speechless. Her ability to surround herself with other accomplished individuals allows her genuine humility to shine through as she describes her own endeavors and achievements.
Along with her infectious optimism and the passion that shines through in her voice, it is almost impossible not to assign new meaning to one’s own life after a conversation with Wilkinson. She wears countless hats, from creating attainable music education to the public, to bringing her passion for international education to countless students, to completing a PhD, to actively contributing to climate change activism. I encourage anyone reading to lean on Wilkinson as an example and try on a hat that they might not usually. She is proof that you do not have to be any one thing. Why put that limit on yourself?
- Interview by Global Leadership League member and volunteer, Sabrina Vitale
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