An Interview with our new President, Jackie Ashley

by Judith Roberts on 12 November 2015


How are you settling into your new role as President?

I’m really enjoying it! Everyone is so friendly and supportive – it’s a very welcoming college. I’m so busy that I barely have time to draw breath, but that’s what I expected. Our move into the President’s Lodge is nearly complete and I love the fact that it’s so quiet; it’s like being in the country. I awake to birds singing, we’re surrounded by trees – it’s very different to London, where I live Jackie Ashleyon a busy street.

What is your vision for the College, both short- and long-term?

Firstly we need to address the finances, as we’re starting from quite a low base and all our future innovation will need to be funded. We are setting up a Centre for Women in Technology and we are currently focusing on fund-raising for that project. It is generally accepted that the new digital technologies are keen to employ more highly-skilled women, but there is a shortage within the industry – and that is what we are hoping to address. Cambridge is, of course, the ideal place for this and we have had some very positive responses from companies and organisations that we have approached.

There are also on-going discussions about the future shape of the college; we are considering a range of possibilities and, with the widest possible consultation, will decide the best way forward for Lucy Cavendish.  

We are also thinking about our overall accommodation and facilities needs and hoping to fund the building of a large space for conferences, concerts and drama, and any other activities which cannot be accommodated at present. We already have two conferences planned: Where are the Women, which will take place in the Cambridge Union Building in November, and a Stroke Conference involving those at the cutting edge of research into strokes from both London and Cambridge, in the New Year.

And, of course, I aspire to raise the number of students attaining first class or upper second degrees. Our undergraduates, graduates and Fellows all work very hard and we want to see their efforts bearing even more fruit. We are already looking at ways of supporting students in improving their study skills, work-life balance and examination technique.  If any alumnae would like to volunteer to mentor undergraduates, in anything from composing an essay, to how to revise, and how to write for three hours when you are used to typing, we’d be very happy to hear from them.

As part of raising the profile of Lucy Cavendish, we are making our Annual Fiction prize even bigger and better.  Our sponsors, PFD, have more than doubled the money they are putting into the prize so we hope to make a big splash with this year’s shortlist – entries have just opened, so please spread the word. (lucy-cav.cam.ac.uk/fictionprize/)

How do you see the Alumnae Association contributing to this vision?

We intend to set up a Development Board, which will involve Fellows, donors and alumnae in every stage of the planning process and we welcome all ideas and support for shaping the College’s future. We are aware that there are very few Lucy Cavendish alumnae in a position to become large-scale benefactors, but if everyone spreads the word then ideas for fund-raising, and prospective donors, may begin to emerge. We have far more chance of success if we engage 400 brains on this challenge, rather than just a few.

Nautilus is important here as it informs alumnae of College news and events and helps to raise the profile of the College. It is a way of supporting the work and the ethos of the College. There is such a lot of interesting work being undertaken by our Fellows and research students that perhaps Nautilus could be a way of disseminating some of this.

Our overseas alumnae are extremely important too and one or two have already contacted us about setting up branches of the Alumnae Association in other countries, especially in the Far East, which we should encourage. I ‘m hoping to visit the USA in due course on a fund-raising trip, focusing especially on the high-tech industries of the west coast. We have no formal links with European countries so we need to think about spreading our word in that direction, especially into the Scandinavian countries.

There’s certainly enough there to keep you busy for the next few years!

It’s going to be a very interesting and worthwhile time. Enhancing the role of women in education, science and technology, business, politics and the arts is a really important venture and Lucy Cavendish is a College ideally placed to serve that cause. I’m looking forward to meeting the challenge.

Interview conducted on October 29 2015 by Julie McDonald and Judith Roberts, Lucy Cavendish Alumnae Association