Posted Monday 5 August 2019
A social work expert from Kingston University and St George's, University of London, who created a series of projects to help develop an inclusive curriculum, create a sense of community and promote mindfulness has been recognised with a prestigious National Teaching Fellowship.
Course leader for the undergraduate course in social work, Farrukh Akhtar, is one of 54 new National Teaching Fellows announced by higher education charity Advance HE, as part of an initiative celebrating individuals who have made an outstanding impact on student outcomes and the teaching profession in higher education.
Ms Akhtar has more than 25 years' experience in the field and has worked in child protection, fostering services and therapeutic communities, which sees groups come together to tackle long-term mental illness, personality disorders and drug addiction.
The experienced social worker decided on a career in the field at an early age when, one day during her school lesson in East London, Ms Akhtar and her fellow pupils learned that a classmate had been taken in to foster care. "It was really unheard of back in the 1980's. Overnight, this girl was labelled as different and suddenly became an outsider," she said. "I has never heard of social workers before and was shocked they had the power to come in to your home, take you away and decide where you want to live. It was something that stayed with me and made me realise that done properly, it's a job that can make a difference to people's lives," she added.
During her 10 years at Kingston, Ms Akhtar has led a number of innovative projects that have championed the development of an inclusive and transformative curriculum, increased soft skills and contributed to a sense of community around the University, for staff and students alike. "Students now face all sorts of challenges. I feel strongly about them getting the most out of their time here," Ms Akhtar said.
One of the key schemes is an ongoing annual poster exhibition in Kenry House, a building on the University's Kingston Hill campus that hosts social work lectures. "The idea behind the posters is to highlight ordinary people doing extraordinary things, to show how we all have the capacity to shine. Every year, the posters have a different theme and this year's was ‘Celebrating Student Success' where students and staff success was highlighted," she said.
Ms Akhtar is responsible for developing Replenish, a 10-week programme to cultivate happiness and resilience among staff and students. She has been approached by partner agencies and other universities who want to enrol on it. Participants receive a daily email, with each week covering a different theme, it enables them to set their intentions and make active choices about they choose to interpret the event of that day.
Other enterprises include running transformative life writing workshops on overcoming writer's block and an annual retreat at a Quaker Study Centre. Ms Akhtar also organised the first Kingston University communal Ghazal, a unique form of poetry, following in her father's footsteps after he created a book of the literature.
Ms Akhtar said a supportive and collaborative environment at Kingston University has enabled her to enhance the student experience. "It's brilliant that if I have an idea, the University will give me an opportunity to take it on and see it through," she added.
Dean of the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education, run jointly by Kingston and St George's, Andy Kent said the award was very well deserved recognition of Farrukh's excellence in learning and teaching, including her contribution to staff and student wellbeing through her pioneering Replenish project. "All of us in the faculty are delighted that her achievement has been recognised nationally by Advance HE and we are very proud to work alongside her," he added.
Ms Akhtar collected her award at a ceremony in Manchester on Wednesday 16 October.