Former BBC trustee and media executive Sonita Alleyn OBE has taken up her post as Master of Jesus College, Cambridge University.
Alleyne, described as an ‘inspirational’ choice for the job, which is a 10 year appointment, began her tenure at the start of this academic year.
She becomes the 42nd Master and the first black woman to lead Jesus College since its foundation in 1496.
Alleyn succeeded Professor Ian White FREng, who was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bath earlier this year.
Speaking after the announcement of her election, Alleyne said it was “an honour to be elected to lead Jesus College” adding that she had been struck by “the positive and forward-looking ethos shared across the college”.
And in an exclusive interview with The Voice Alleyn outlined her vision for new role and what she hoped she would achieve.
The new Master of Jesus College said that widening access and participation at Cambridge University and changing the perception of the institution that many students who don’t apply to go there may have are at the top of her priorities.
However Alleyn revealed she is being cautious in her approach.
She said: “ I think what happens when people come into roles they have a mindset which says ‘change, change, change’ but actually the first thing that is really important when they’re going into a role such as being Master of Jesus College is to really get to know people which is what I have been doing
“I started officially on October 1 but I spent four or five weeks prior to that speaking to people in student accommodation and talking to students over the summer period as well, talking to the maintenance team, the gardeners, having conversations about fundraising and finance, our student ambassadors and outreach teams and I’ve got to know quite a lot of Fellows.
“So that’s been the immediate goal. Beyond this, I have goals around making sure that all students, undergraduates and postgraduates, really develop their academic excellence and that they can develop their sense of agency. I want them to really get to grips with how they make a difference in the world and how they can go after the things that they want .
“But widening participation is an area I’m very keen to look at. I’m joining a fantastic team doing really good work in that area. It’s really important to make more efforts to have BAME people coming through the universities and going on to careers in academia. I’ve been very pleased with seeing the efforts that the university has made to get that message out there and encourage people to come forward.
Alleyne continued: “Of the figures I know for students who are entering university in 2019/2020, Cambridge will have 68 per cent of its students from state schools.
At Jesus, our figure is about 74.2 per cent from state schools and of those 20 per cent are from a BAME background. But there’s still a lot of work to be done in giving young people from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to fulfil their potential and aim for academic excellence.”
Alleyne is aware of the significance of her history-making appointment as the first black female to head an Oxbridge college.
However she is wary of there being too much media focus on her.
She said: “I hesitate to think of myself as a role model but I hope that some of the publicity surrounding me being here encourages more people to apply. I think the whole process that surrounds applying to and going to Cambridge needs to be demystified.”
Brought up in East London, Alleyn studied for a degree in philosophy at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, graduating in 1988.
A career in radio followed, including founding production company Somethin’ Else which she led as Chief Executive from 1991 until 2009.
She also brings a wealth of governance experience to her new role.
Appointed by the Mayor of London to the Board of the London Legacy Development Corporation in 2012, she is part of the drive to promote and deliver regeneration in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and surrounding areas.
For the full version of this interview please look out for the December edition of The Voice