From student to staff: Alicia’s journey of personal growth

Alicia Beels started life at CCCU in 2016 and 7 years later, after a journey of personal development she has progressed from student (BA Art, 2020 and MA Art 2022) to staff member as a Lecturer in Digital Media. We spoke to Alicia about her passion for photography, keeping up with digital trends and why she loves seeing her students succeed.

Tell us a bit about your career journey so far?

My career journey has been very rapid and very intense. I now have a far greater appreciation and respect for what the tutors do for us as students!

To make the most of my undergraduate experience I did a lot of work experience in various departments and industries which allowed me to work out what my strengths were and what I enjoyed. I got into teaching because of my outreach work that I did in my last year of my degree, teaching basic photography and image manipulation skills in schools as an extra-curricular activity.

Because my outreach work was very successful, when I graduated in 2020, I was asked to become a sessional lecturer on the Digital Media programme. I did this for two years while I also studying for my Masters. Since 2022 I’ve been a permanent member of the Digital Media teaching team. From graduating to where I am now has been rapid and intense, it was also a journey I wasn’t anticipating. Initially my goal was to go into industry and become a graphic designer, but I found that my passion is really seeing students succeed.

I am an ideas person and when discussing projects with the students I get equally as excited and invested in their project as they are, but what I enjoy most about lecturing is seeing the student progression. Having that impact on the students and seeing that progression in the real world, it is incredible to know I’ve had an influence and made a difference. I enjoy seeing the student grow and become successful.  

What is next for digital media and how do you keep up with industry developments?

In terms of development in digital media I suppose the main thing is keeping up with trends, especially because they are very important when designing certain projects. I always encourage students to make themselves aware of trends through research of relevant media elements. Keeping current on LinkedIn with professional branding projects but also other platforms like TikTok can help because you can see the practical use of some of the tools within the software that we use. I tell my students to keep up and be aware of what is happening, what is fashionable at that time but also what can you learn from them to inspire your projects.

My time at university has really given me the opportunity to develop not just my professional skill set, but my own personal growth. Christ Church has been instrumental in allowing me a safe space to become who I’ve always wanted to be and had the potential to be.

With the development of Artificial Intelligence, I think it’s very important to convey to the students that whilst academic integrity is very important when considering plagiarism, it is even more important to be aware of plagiarism in terms of professional integrity because that will impact them more so in industry. In terms of keeping up to date in general it is a case of research and look at what other companies do, look at other designers, photographers, film makers and where they get their ideas from and how you can use inspiration in your own projects without plagiarising someone else’s ideas.

As a freelance photographer, Alicia also has a passion for photography and the story telling aspect of it.

Photography is beyond just the art of taking a good photo, it is also having the ability to see the image that you want to take and developing a way of looking at things. I think also what makes photography very interesting and fun is that you also must be aware of the effect of light, which is very impactful to the device let alone your eyes and what you can see. It can be a very experimental form of art. For me I love the visual aspects of photography because it is a still image and if you are trying to convey a story or an emotion or just some sort of response from the audience to do that with a photo, I find that the possibilities are endless.

As an alumnus and now a staff member, can you tell us what CCCU means to you?

Canterbury Christ Church means a lot to me. When I started here in 2016 on my foundation year I was a shadow of the person that I am now. My time at university has really given me the opportunity to develop not just my professional skill set, but my own personal growth. Christ Church has been instrumental in allowing me a safe space to become who I’ve always wanted to be and had the potential to be. I always joked that I’d grown roots and had no intention of leaving yet. The whole experience has just shown me that actually I have always had the potential to do more and be more and for the first time I’ve now been given the opportunity to do that.

What is your advice to a student wanting to study digital media?

My advice to anyone wanting to do Digital Media would be, come in with an open mind because when I started I only had experience in photography and I didn’t have any knowledge of the software, equipment or other aspects of digital media. Whilst it’s good to have a background in certain aspects of digital media, if you are prepared to push yourself in a creative way then you just need to be open to exploring and experimenting with the software and the creative outputs. This course gives you the time and the space to push your practical skills and to generate the ideas that you have, but also to how to develop and implement them in the real world with real skills that employers or clients are potentially looking for.