Growing up, sisters Laura and Rowena Simmons were always close. But they never imagined that their life paths would lead them to the same university – both as students and now as academics.
Laura is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology, while Rowena imparts her extensive business knowledge with students as a Lecturer in Digital Business.
Laura was the first to begin her journey through the University of Worcester, beginning her undergraduate degree in Psychology in 2011.
“Initially, I never wanted to study at university and the whole prospect of university really intimidated me,” she recalls. “I knew that I was interested in Psychology and that I wanted to have a career within the area, but I had considered alternative options for me to pursue this. However, when I attended open days and had the opportunity to speak to the lecturers, I found that everyone was really friendly, and it made me want to apply here.”
Two years later, as Laura was entering her final year of study, younger sister Rowena joined the University to study for an undergraduate degree in Business, Finance and Entrepreneurship.
“We didn’t see much of each other at university as we were on different courses,” Rowena said. “But it was nice to know that Laura was there if I needed anything.”
It was during her studies that Rowena started her own successful jewellery business, Franco Florenzi, and went on to win a string of awards, including Midlands Young Entrepreneur of the Year and Exporter of the Year (Turnover under £1m) at the Midlands Business Awards, the Editor’s Choice Award - Commercial Mastermind at International Jewellery London, and Most Promising Entrepreneur, Clothiers Company. She also won the Best Digital Heat Winner at Lloyds Bank Enterprise Awards.
Although the sisters chose to study at the same university, they had very different approaches to their careers.
“Laura was always the more academic one and knew she wanted to do more studying,” Rowena said. “For me, I wanted to concentrate on my business so after graduation I threw myself into building that.”
After completing her Psychology degree, Laura stayed at Worcester to complete an MSc in Applied Psychology before gaining work as an Associate Lecturer and then completing a PhD. She is now employed full time as a Senior Lecturer in Psychology.
“During my MSc and PhD, I gained lots of experience teaching in Higher Education and it was part of the role as an academic that I really enjoyed,” she said. “Towards the end of my PhD, I knew that I wanted to move back to Worcester and get a job as a lecturer at the University because I loved the community so much and off the back of my PhD, I could offer a very unique research area, so I was very excited when I got the phone call to say I was offered the job.”
After completing her degree, Rowena kept in contact with people at the University, while building her business. She saw a job advertised for an Associate Lecturer in the Business School and decided it would be an excellent opportunity to share all she had learned with others.
“I started off teaching on a few modules, including social media and e-business,” she said. “Then my Head of Department suggested I complete an MBA in Executive Leadership and Management, which I graduated from in November 2021”.
“At the end of 2020 a position for a full-time lecturer became available, so I decided to go for it.”
The sisters said returning to teach at their former place of study was a little strange at first but reassuringly familiar.
“At first, because I had transitioned from studying to teaching, it was strange but working alongside those who used to teach me was a blessing,” said Laura. “Some of the staff became excellent mentors and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without their support and guidance. When I started my role as a lecturer, I already knew who everyone was, and I was familiar with all the technology and processes, so it made transitioning into the role a lot easier.”
Rowena added: “It was a bit strange at first but knowing the staff that made it easier and I’m really enjoying it. I never thought that after graduating I would come back; teaching was never something I’d considered. But having a new challenge is what really motivates me.”
She added: “It’s nice to be able to share my experience of setting up and running a business with students, many of whom may never have thought they could do it. I like inspiring people to think about it.”
So what’s it like teaching at the same university as your sibling?
“It’s actually very handy,” says Laura. “We often swap teaching techniques and activities, which I know only makes my teaching practice better. Some students who have either studied Business or who are on the Business Psychology pathway sometimes ask if we are related and then they tell me what an excellent Lecturer Rowena is. In fact, Rowena and I sound very similar and last year a Business student who overheard a Psychology student having an online lecture thought that Rowena was taking the Psychology session but actually it was me.”
And they both insist there’s no competition! “There’s no competition between us; we have had very different journeys and have different disciplines,” says Rowena.
“Rowena is industry based and draws on her own experiences of operating a business and I’m a traditional academic who went down the PhD and research route,” added Laura. “We do have a very similar teaching skill set but we’re not competitive.”