Fifteen to One | Jo Westerman

With an incredible 40 years’ service already under her belt, you could be forgiven for thinking Jo Westerman has seen and done it all!

Fifteen to One | Jo Westerman. February 2023

But the Staff Festival supremo is still hungry to continue growing in her role.

Discover Jo’s plans for this year’s exciting entertainment extravaganza, how she came to be awarded an MBE and why one of her most treasured career highlights was seeing the pride and joy on her family’s faces as she collected yet another coveted accolade.

Can you describe your role in 100 words?

I am an Organisational Learning Partner in Organisational Development and Professional Learning (OD&PL). My area of responsibility is to work with colleagues in Grade 2-5 roles to explore their learning and development needs to enable them to reach their full potential at work. 

Once I understand their specific learning needs, I design, deliver, commission and co-create learning and development opportunities for them.

What impresses you the most about the University of Leeds? 

How the beauty of the campus grounds has been enhanced over the years by the Estates Team. It’s the first thing that’s commented on when visitors arrive – they’re so surprised a city centre campus embraces nature with such wonderful greenery, plants and flowers.

I love being able to walk around such a vibrant, bustling campus, but within minutes I’m able to find a garden haven of tranquillity to clear my head and de-stress.

What question have you most frequently been asked in your role? 

How do you progress at the University? What support, resources and courses are available to help me and where will I find information about them? I know this isn’t one question but they’re usually linked together when asked!

What are you most looking forward to working on? 

I’m really looking forward to working on delivering the best ever Staff Festival on 30 June!

Why is the Staff Festival so important? 

It’s very important because it’s the most visible way the University says thank you to the staff community for all their hard work throughout the year. It’s the one afternoon when we’re encouraged to down tools and take a break from work to experience fun activities, food and drink on campus. Colleagues, work teams and their families can meet up and take time to enjoy themselves in the fresh air and a carnival spirit! 

This year’s Staff Festival is more important than ever as it has been more than three years since colleagues were last able to celebrate like this, so it’s long overdue!

Is there something, or someone, that has inspired you in your career? 

In 2002, I asked if it would be possible to be granted a secondment… and the answer came back “yes”! 

I was given the opportunity by the then Director of HR, Matthew Knight, to take a three-and-a-half-year secondment away from my technician’s post to work in a totally different role as a regional learning organiser for my trade union. This was a major turning point in my career.

The advice, guidance and support I was given by Matthew to encourage me to try a new role in a new discipline and gain new skills in lifelong learning was invaluable and convinced me I could take that step.

When I returned to the University, I had gained such a lot of valuable experience and new transferable skills that I was able to create and project manage the LOGIK Centre for three years before it became a permanent staff facility in 2008. This ultimately resulted in the migration to my current role in OD&PL.

We all have that professional or personal achievement we’re incredibly proud of – can you tell us yours?

The achievement I’m incredibly proud of is both professional and personal. I was awarded an MBE in the 2010 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to the University and higher education in general.

This award means so much to me because it recognises the partnership work of my two roles – with my trade union and the University – both of which make me the person I am.  

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career that you know now?

When I first started work, I wish I’d known I didn’t need to know everything about performing my job perfectly from day one. I wish I had understood there are people at work who are willing and able to answer your questions, give you advice and guidance and point you in the right direction to learn and develop in your career. All you need is the courage to ask!

If you didn’t work in HE, what would have been your chosen career?

I applied for a role in the forensic science laboratories when I was younger because I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of collecting trace evidence from crime scenes and analysing samples for DNA profiling. I was trained to use mass spectrometry and a number of other relevant techniques, so I could see myself being a crime scene investigator.

What are your campus highlights?

There are too many campus highlights to list after 40 years’ service. 

One of my most treasured memories was being able to celebrate my 25 years’ long service with my uncle and godfather. They had never stepped foot inside the University, let alone seen an official ceremony, despite having lived in Hyde Park since the 1950s and looking up at the University every day.

I will always remember the look of pride and joy on their faces as they watched me and my colleagues receive our long service awards from the Vice-Chancellor in the Great Hall. They didn’t stop smiling all day, especially when they were treated to a wonderful lunch at the University… and neither did I!

Have you found a favourite location on campus?

My favourite location is sitting in St George’s Field on our Workers Memorial bench surrounded by crocuses in silent contemplation.

What role does the LOGIK Centre play in the life of the University?

The future role of the LOGIK Centre is under discussion, so watch this space!

What do you do to relax away from University life?

I have an online personal trainer, whom I train with twice a week, with additional solo sessions to supplement my programme. I go to a Salsa dance class every week and I love listening to audio murder mystery books.

Where’s your favourite travel destination and why?

Iceland, as it’s the only place where I can completely relax and get away from everything. The scenery is magnificent. I’ve been horse riding on snowy lava, explored inside a volcano crater, been white-water rafting and driven up a glacier to see the sunset! There’s so much to see and do, and the Icelanders are like my second family after 10 visits so far. No trip is the same, except I always visit the ice-cream parlours, which is a ‘must do’ in Iceland.

What’s your random claim to fame?

I don’t believe I have any claim to fame! When I joined the University in 1982, however, I was chosen to appear on ITV’s Calendar on a makeover programme. I had my makeup done by Barbara Daly, the iconic makeup artist who worked on A Clockwork Orange and who was on duty for the Royal Wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles.

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