Student stories

Previous year's students tackled a range of challenges set by University of Birmingham academics, some of which were awarded prizes by our supporting organisations. See what previous year's students had to say about their experience of The Birmingham Project in the case studies below:

Grow with Joe

Grow with Joe Feature Picture (4)

Theme: Developing Health & Community

Challenge: How can we make a "healthy campus"?

Challenge Lead: Paul Fisher

External partner: KPMG

Project: "Grow with Joe" website

How did your group tackle your challenge?

The challenge we were tasked with was to create a product that would contribute to making campus healthier. About half of us initially met at a "Sandbox" event in March, where we were introduced to our challenge by our corporate sponsor KPMG. This was the first time we got to thinking about what our product would be. We brainstormed and discussed many ideas, including the idea of an edible garden but did not quite settle on anything at this stage.

After that, in June when we started the project, we didn’t quite have a clear direction for the first half of the first week and we explored quite a few ideas during this time, including the possibility of a cookbook with healthy recipes for students. By the end of the week we had decided on a student-run edible garden because we wanted a solution that tackled both the mental and physical aspects of health; our reasoning was that students would both volunteer to relax during term but also that they would be able to consume the produce which, as it would be grown locally, would be healthier than other alternatives. Over the weekend we created an online survey which gathered around 200 respondents and we had quasi-unanimous support for the creation of an edible garden which solidified our choice to focus on this idea.

What skills and experience have you developed through participating in The Birmingham Project?

Often when working in a team, especially at university, it can be tempting to adopt a somewhat chaotic approach to work and often it even works simply because the groups are smaller and groups have more time. During the Birmingham Project, however, we had quite a large group (eight students plus our Postgraduate Teaching Assistant) and a somewhat tighter timeline, so we were forced to be clear on who did what and we had to clearly structure our approach to the challenge, which was quite challenging at the beginning. This was definitely a skill we developed which is hard to come by otherwise.

In addition to this, we developed some more general skills such as finding copyright free pictures on the internet to use for our presentation, using the presentation format Prezi (which none of us had used before) and “pitching” our idea to corporate professionals. Generally, it really depended on what your role in the team was; some people worked on developing a website for our project, others contacted and held interviews with societies to see if they’d be interested in working with us. Throughout the project there was also very useful workshops held by the university which further helped us develop the skills required for the project.

What would you say to first year students considering signing up to the project?

Definitely do so! Regardless of whether you win or not, you’ll develop some valuable transferable skills which employers like to see, such as being able to work in a team with people of diverse backgrounds, being able to “sell” an idea with confidence to an audience and with any luck you’ll also make loads of new friends. Personally, not long after the project, I (Kaemel) was invited to a job interview for a summer internship and the project was a great talking point. In fact, it must have made quite an impact because I was offered the job in the end. So if you have the free time & it sounds like something you would be interested in, definitely go for it!

Grow with Joe Feature (Picture 1)

What was the most memorable moment?

Winning of course! Well, while having our efforts acknowledged felt great, in reality the most memorable moment of the project was probably when we met with the project team leads of the Green Heart project (the big area in the centre of campus which is being reconverted and which we hope will host our garden) during the second week of the project. Having the support of university administration and being able to discuss our ideas with them really made the project seem like something concrete, something that could happen.

What’s next for “Grow with Joe”?

After our project ended we all decided we wanted to continue with it and make it a reality. To this aim, we founded a Guild volunteering group called GrowSoc (as a volunteering group we’re free to join so if you’re interested please feel free to join us and/or like our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter!) & are currently gathering volunteers.

As well as the Green Heart, we are also exploring the possibility of a smaller student-run garden in the green community at the Vale. We’ve also raised £1000 in funding from alumni to go towards equipment & hiring a garden consultant.

Overall, although it has been a challenge it does feel like we’re making progress and we will be able to see our project come to fruition.  

Group members:

Rob Wickett – Psychology

Dani Hatton – Bio-chemistry

Shin Wei Chong – Chemical Engineering

Chloe Philp – Sports Science

Kaemel Ragheb – Economics

Faye Kho Sing Yi – Liberal Arts & Sciences

Sarah Hamid – Psychology

Nimco Munin – Social Policy

Nadia French – PGTA (Postgraduate Teaching Assistant)

Grow with Joe Feature (Picture 2)

Gulaid Ahmed, BSc Chemistry

Gulaid Ahmed 1

Theme: Designing the Future of Transport

Challenge: How can we make active travel work in the West Midlands?

Challenge Lead: Professor Ian Thomson 

External Partner: Transport for West Midlands (TfWM)

Project: "Tranplan" mobile phone app

How did your group tackle your challenge?

Early on in the process we quickly brain stormed how we could provide a solution. We also identified the different skill sets from our degree programmes, thus allowing us to assign specific roles and help spread the workload accordingly. We also did the inevitable shed load of reading around our topic to help us get a rough image.

What was the most memorable moment of taking part?

Getting the feedback for our presentations was a moment I can’t forget. Getting judged by 8 important people from Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) was a daunting experience during the presentation but we did better than we thought when they gave us their comments on how we tackled the problem. They told they’d take concepts we developed (from scratch) and possibly implement them in future projects.

What has been your focus over the summer, since completing the project?

Since the completing the Birmingham Project, I have been searching and applying to Year in Industry and summer programmes, just to get the most experience I can and to help me stand out of the crowd. Without mentioning the Birmingham Project, I would have found it difficult to answer interview questions but I have been able to talk about team work and being a key team player.

Do you have any advice for students who are thinking about enrolling on The Birmingham Project?

I would 100% recommend the Birmingham Project, it’ll help you find out what type of team player you are. You’ll improve your ability to work under pressure, as two weeks to research and to create a digital output is quite short. Hopefully you’ll see that you’ve changed at the end of it.

Also, you never know, you could be offered exclusive internship opportunities like my team were; I was able to complete a further two weeks of work experience at Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) at their Summer Lane offices. It really is a win-win situation.

Jenna Kelly, MSci Mathematics

Jenna Kelly 1Theme: Designing the Future of Transport

Challenge: How can we make active travel work in the West Midlands?

Challenge Lead: Professor Ian Thomson

External Partner: Transport for West Midlands

Project: "Tranplan" mobile phone app

How did your group tackle your challenge?

My group has a very focused approach to the challenge. We stated the milestones we needed to achieve very early on, and kept those goals in sight throughout the challenge. At the start of our day, we all planed what needed to get done and we did not leave until it was completed. We all had our strengths and we played to them.  

What was the most memorable moment of taking part?

There are a few that come to mind. We had some interesting debates, both on topic and off topic in our spare time but I think the most memorable moment had to be after the awards presentation. We did not win our challenge but whilst we were celebrating our experience together, we were approached by a colleague from Transport for West Midlands (TfWM). She congratulated us on our hard work and told us that if we ever wanted placements that she would be happy to get us involved with the organisation. We were all tired and washed out from the intensive two weeks and her praise made it all seem worth it. Our hard work had actually achieved something. 

What has been your focus over the summer, since completing the project?

Following the offer of a placement from TfWM, I was able to work with them on a student-specific project, along with one other person from my Birmingham Project team. We were tasked in surveying the public's views on the refurbishment of the University train station.

We learnt critical skills about data processing, presentation and questionnaire building in a corporate setting. During the two week placement we surveyed around 500 people, analysed qualitative data and were able to give a presentation to a few of the stakeholders involved in the University train station project. So although we did not continue with the work we started during the Birmingham Project, we were able to start on a new project that could continue into summers to come. 

Do you have any advice for students who are thinking about enrolling on The Birmingham Project?

DO IT! Enrol! It is so worth all the blood, sweat and tears! I made good friends across so many subjects. I learnt how to project manage, how to work as an equal part in a team, and how to design and brand a product I had no idea how to begin building. It is a project that will stretch your mind, improve so many skills and may even land you an internship.

My only advice would be to put everything you have into it. You can NEVER be over prepared for anything. Do not get disheartened by seeing other groups projects, yours may still win even if you think someone else’s project is better. 

Jay Nathwani, BSc Money, Banking & Finance

Money buy happiness 2014

Challenge: How can we make active travel work in the West Midlands?

Challenge Lead: Professor Glyn Watson

External Partner: IBM

Project: "Can Money Buy You Happiness?" digital magazine

What skills have you developed?

I mainly developed my team working skills throughout the project. Working with other students from different disciplines makes the project more interesting as you have people with various talents and skills, which we tried to make the most of.

I also developed my organisational and time management skills in terms of trying to meet deadlines that we set ourselves throughout the project. Forming a timeframe, working backwards from our final presentation date, really helped put the work into perspective and meant that we juggled our time fairly effectively. Hopefully these are skills I will be able to take forward from this project into future teamwork exercises.

How did your group tackle your challenge?

We began by discussing what we wanted to achieve from this project, with input from our academic lead and PGTA. We decided to explore various avenues through philosophical, psychosocial, economic and neuroscientific academic papers as a preliminary exercise. This enabled us to make a more informed decision as to what we wanted to convey in terms of answering our project question.

We felt our ideal target audience would be students coming to this university as, now more than ever, money plays a key role in student's decisions to come to university and thus undoubtedly impacts upon their happiness at university. As a result, we came up with the idea to form an online, interactive student magazine where we applied our findings to advise prospective students, as well as existing students.

The overall aim of the magazine is to allow students to maximise their happiness during their time at university, for very little money. Our focus was to apply the academic research to student life.

What would you say to first year students considering signing up to the project next year?

The project is a great learning experience where you will not only learn more about your own strengths and weaknesses, but also learn how to work as a team, so you can utilise each other’s strengths.

At some point during your time at university you will have to work in a group with other students and this is a great way to gain some of the vital skills you need to be successful in those groups.

It is also a great way to develop many fundamental skills such as organisation, time management and project management. It is very differently structured to many modules at university as it allows you to be as creative as you can be and I think this is what makes it ultimately a great diverse learning experience.

You also get to meet new people from around the university; we had a combination of Chemical Engineering, Geology, Law, Biochemistry, Electrical Engineering, Finance, Mathematical Science and Business Management students. Try meeting that combination at Fab!

The project is also very rewarding in terms of the prizes available, which really motivated us throughout the project.

Lara Akindeinde, BSc Biological Sciences

What skills have you developed?

Through my participation in the Birmingham Project I have gained a valuable insight into project management. I have gained experience in project planning, research and presentation design; all experience I will find useful during my degree and in future.

From working in a team, I have developed my skills in communication and negotiation, key elements to the project’s success.

How did your group tackle your challenge?

As a group, we initially assigned individual roles based on our strengths and weaknesses in order to ensure we worked efficiently– both independently and as a group. We then looked at our project title and began brainstorming ideas.

Once we had a number of ideas on paper, we chose the best ones to carry forward and began to plan how we should carry forward our project. We were careful to keep within the two week project scope which included completing the project, a peer evaluation and our group presentation.

What would you say to first year students considering signing up to the project next year?

I would advise first year students to seize this opportunity to take on a new experience and engage themselves in a worthwhile project. It is a great way to end their first year at Birmingham with something completely different to any course they are studying.

It will give them the opportunity to meet people outside their course and start thinking about future employment plans with useful advice from organisations such as PwC and IBM.

Temitope Bodunrin, BSc Biochemistry

Cycling Bham 2014

What skills have you developed?

I have developed my teamwork skills and gained confidence in using my initiative and communication skills. The majority of the project relied on close interaction between team members, therefore co-operating and working with the team every day was vital to the project’s success.

A lot of our activities focused on thinking critically and developing our confidence in conducting research.

How did your group tackle your challenge?

We assigned project roles in the team such as researchers, data analysts and presentation delivery. This ensured the project scope was appropriate for the two week timescale and a number of tasks could be undertaken at once.

What would you say to first year students considering signing up to the project next year?

Go for it! You will gain invaluable experience of project management.

Isabel Roan, BSc Economics

2a Society App

Challenge:  How can we engage citizens in local decision making?

Challenge Lead: Dr Yao YaoDr Kamilya Suleymenova

External Partner: PwC

Project: 'Civitas' - app

How did your group tackle your challenge?

We had so many ideas initially related to how the features of our digital output could tackle the real-world issues of so many citizens not getting involved in local decision making. We surveyed members of the public to see which of these features people would find most useful and which platform (e.g. an app or website) they would prefer. Our presentation was designed with fun elements included in it such as a prototype app we could click through and a short advert. We thought that things we found fun to create would also be interesting for an audience to watch. 

What was the most memorable moment of taking part?

Undoubtedly, finding out that I had won CIMA's business challenge on the final day. My group members were so supportive towards me! 

What has been your focus over the summer, since completing the project?

Over the summer, I mostly took time to relax and spend time with my family. I also applied to some ad-hoc jobs at the university. The Birmingham Project really boosted my CV for these purposes.

Do you have any advice for students who are thinking about enrolling on The Birmingham Project?

Go ahead and enrol! Working in a team as part of The Birmingham Project can be quite different to working on group projects on your course as the project is opt in. This tends to mean your team is enthusiastic and workload is split evenly. Don’t be put off if you don’t think you have the skills to do it, I now see myself as much better at working within teams, more confident and as having better digital skills.

Hannah Lay, BA Political Science

2B Society 1

Challenge:  How can we engage citizens in local decision making?

Challenge Lead: Dr Yao Yao & Dr Kamilya Suleymenova

External Partner: PwC

Project: 'BRUM DECIDES' - app

How did your group tackle your challenge?

Our theme was Shaping Global Society and our question was ‘How can we engage citizens in local decision making?’ We spent our first day generating ideas and deciding which approach we wanted to take. From there, we discussed what we needed to accomplish in order to achieve our objective. Then, we divided up the workload amongst each other according to each of our strengths. There was a lot to do but because we each took elements that worked to our strengths, we were able to get through it all within the timeframe. Saying this, there are plenty of opportunities to try new tasks to build skills in new areas. For example, I helped build our app, a skill I did not have previously, but developed as a result of the project.


What was the most memorable moment of taking part?

The final day was really enjoyable. Initially we were all really nervous about presenting in front of our fellow competitors and the company representatives. However, we delivered (in my opinion) an excellent presentation and felt a great buzz once we had completed it. Following this, the awards ceremony was really fun. It was good to see projects from across different themes and although we didn’t win, we still felt really proud at the end of it. 


What has been your focus over the summer, since completing the project?

My focus has been on applying for work experience and summer placements for next year. I have been able to add the Birmingham Project to my CV and it has provided me with great examples of skills to use in application questions and during interviews. The project did not just equip me with skills. The chance to attend a CV building workshop and talk directly with company representatives, gave me a better idea of how I should approach placement and work experience applications.

Do you have any advice for students who are thinking about enrolling on The Birmingham Project?

Just sign up and go for it. Realistically, what else are you going to be doing during the last two weeks of term? The project will help you develop new skills but also show you how skilled you already are. Also, the chance to meet new people both from within the university and external companies is invaluable. Also, if you win, the opportunities on offer are really good, for example the winning team within my theme got a chance to go to one of PwC’s offices and learn first-hand about the company and the opportunities they have on offer.