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Katie Normington: De Montfort University’s first ever female Vice-Chancellor

De Montfort University’s first ever female Vice-Chancellor sat down with Pukaar Magazine to talk about her role within Leicester’s higher education sector, and how the younger years she spent training to be a professional ballet dancer really “toughened her up” for the important role she now occupies.

DMU New VC Katie Normington

Katie Normington took on the position of Vice- Chancellor last year – the first time a woman has occupied the role in DMU’s 30 year history.

She was also the first woman in her family to go to university, graduating from Exeter University in her early 20’s with a degree in Drama and English. “My grandmother left school at 14 and my mother at 16. It was just never expected,” Katie told Pukaar.

“I grew up in the small northern town of Darlington and certainly knew that I wanted to get out.

“I was really keen on being a ballet dancer, and so actually I did leave when I was 18 to go to London and take up a place at a professional ballet school to do that training,” she continued. “I took the practice very seriously from the age of 13 onwards.”

However, Katie says her experience of going to ballet school, and the harsh criticism she received there, really toughened her up for her future career in higher education and senior management.

“After the first year, the ballet school just said ‘look, you’re never going to be better than second right from

the back row for the whole of your career, so we do think it’s best that you move on,” she revealed. “It was heartbreaking at the time – a huge disappointment, but also I think ballet school really toughened me up because I would sort of describe it as a bit like doing national service. I basically went into that dance studio day after day, and they would just tell you that you weren’t good enough. It was sort of soul destroying.

“They literally tried to break you, but I think that kind of gave me a sense of toughness that I’ve needed to get on in my career, and not to let set backs get to me too much.

“After spending just half an hour with Katie, who previously worked as Deputy Principal Academic for Royal Holloway, University of London, it is certainly clear that she is a woman of conviction – with a strong passion and belief in the “transformative power of higher education”.

She sees one of the main responsibilities within her new role, as being to “empower the university’s staff, students and partners”, whilst also making sure it’s a place which is thriving with diversity, possibilities and excitement.

“I see it very much as my job to open up possibilities and opportunities,” she said.

“At DMU I like to think we have a very special community – a thing which I call ‘DMU-ness’,” she added. “It’s a spirit – a verve. I know lots of other universities quite well, and there’s no where else quite like it.

“You come onto campus, and there’s a real sense that things can be made to happen, and that’s something that’s really magical, and really special.”

By Louise Steel

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