Suzanne Shorten – A Day in the Life
Who are you?
I’m Suzanne Shorten, and I look after the summer letting sales of the student residences at Belfield, under the name ‘Summer at UCD’, which we created just over 10 years ago. I am part of a very progressive and ambitious UCD Estate Services team and am ultimately responsible for generating income from the UCD Residences out of term time for the Finance Office.
How did you get here? What was the journey to UCD?
I worked at Blackrock Residences for a number of years, where I dealt with regular term students, and then moved to Belfield to assist in getting Glenomena Residences (the first ensuite student residences in Ireland) off the ground in 2004. Back then, it required considerable effort to convince UCD students to secure their accommodation. However, it’s remarkable how much things have changed.
What is your role within UCD, and what are your main responsibilities?
Here in UCD, we have over 4,000 single student bedrooms, which are used throughout the academic year by our term students. Instead of leaving these idle over the summer, we sell usage of this accommodation to language school students, as well as US students who wish to study abroad during the summer months and to several UCD led programmes, such as the UCD English Language Academy. These programmes have gone from strength to strength since their inception. After the bookings are secured, we continue to work closely with these providers to ensure that their needs are more than adequately met by engaging with other UCD offices and teams as necessary.
Could you briefly describe what a typical day looks like for you?
During the summer months, it’s a frenzy of activity, making sure UCD provides high-quality housing for Language Schools, Faculty-Led Study Tours, Academic Internships, UCD Summer Programmes, US College Study Abroad Programmes, Conferences, Workshops, Sports Groups as well as the new UCD English Language Academy. With more than 100+ separate groups arriving for summer 2023, each of which has bespoke requirements, much of the day is spent liaising with them to ensure that everything is in order for them in advance of their arrival.
This extends to contracting, invoicing, room allocations and procurement of facilities and classrooms – the office is a hive of activity. On top of that, Summer at UCD works closely with the residences’ operations team to deliver our guests a truly memorable experience – from housing and facilities to a comprehensive social programme and welcome on arrival.
Then, when our guests have departed, it’s into full sales and marketing mode, making sure that we secure the bookings needed – in the face of incredibly stiff international competition – to make the following year an even better success, both commercially for UCD and experientially for our guests.
What are some of the most interesting or challenging tasks you encounter on a regular basis? Why are they unavoidable?
Every year, as our final summer visitors say goodbye to us, we start afresh for the coming year. Our task is to make sure that we are the first port of call that European language schools, study abroad groups etc. make contact with. As part of this, we make a really strong case as to why their students will grow both academically and as individuals as a result of spending their Summer at UCD.
Are there any specific projects or initiatives you or your unit are currently working on that you would like to share?
At our very essence, we are a service provider to a whole range of internal UCD colleagues and we look to provide support to them in any way we
can – especially those interested in developing residential summer programmes. We work very closely with UCD Global and in the summer months, we work together to create ambassadors for future summer programmes. We also love to assist any individual staff member who may be interested in hosting a small workshop or event.
Is there a process or element of your work that you would improve or change?
It’s fair to say that every year is a year when we have to improve or change our offering. The standard of accommodation that’s on offer to providers is improving at a rapid rate, and we have to make sure that our offering is constantly evolving, constantly improving, and constantly making itself more relevant.
Could you share a memorable experience you’ve had while working in your role?
Without doubt, the biggest memory that sticks out in my mind is welcoming the first group to UCD in Summer 2022 – the first year that US summer programme students had travelled since the Covid lockdown. The sheer excitement on their faces was only matched by the excitement of myself and the rest of Estate Services as we looked forward to yet another fabulous summer.
Is there a particular skill or expertise that helps you in your role and what advice would you give to someone joining your unit?
You just won’t make it on the Summer at UCD team unless you’re a real ‘people person’ and take genuine pleasure in meeting people from all around the globe, with totally different backgrounds to yourself. Qualities such as resilience, perseverance and creativity are also key. And if you’re not prepared to go the extra ten miles to make sure that our guests have everything they need for a really enjoyable stay, then this definitely isn’t the job for you!
How do you collaborate with other teams or colleagues in your day-to-day work?
Accommodation provides a link to literally dozens of other staff members at UCD who may be in need of our services. Perhaps they’re planning a conference, workshop or event, or maybe they’re looking to host a series of seminars – but whatever their accommodation needs may be, it falls to us to make sure that they can offer the best available accommodation to their various audiences.
Are there any common misconceptions about your role?
Probably the biggest misconception that we hear is that we’re busy during the summer months and can then take it easy over the winter. If only! The winter months are when we go into serious selling mode. We look to further develop the service we’re offering and forge working relationships with potential new providers.
How do you see your job changing over the next ten or twenty years?
Perhaps the biggest thing that happened lately in the education sphere is the advance of remote learning – largely thanks to Covid. This is something we’ll be keeping a very close eye on, but to be honest, doing a virtual Study Abroad Programme or Conference would simply not hold a candle to the ‘real experience’ of living and studying among one of the friendliest and most curious nations on earth.
What is an achievement big or small you’ve had while in this role?
When we developed the Summer At UCD “sub-brand” more than ten years ago, we simply didn’t realise how well known it would become on the international Study Abroad market. We enjoy an exceptional level of interaction with organisers from colleges and providers worldwide.
If your job had a theme song or soundtrack, what would it be [and why]?
Elton John – I’m Still Standing. Two full summers of Covid lockdown took a terrible toll, but we’ve fought back and look forward to welcoming yet another cohort of visitors over the summer months.