Emily Howie at the quadrangle

Me by Emily Howie

Emily Howie (MA 1999) is Head of Alumni & Supporter Engagement at UofG and has the University running through her veins – after graduating, she never left! As a public face of our Development & Alumni Office, Emily works hard with her team to help you keep your connection to the University strong once you have graduated. Avenue spoke to Emily about her busy career at UofG, the inspiring alumni she has met over the years ... and baking!

How long have you been working here at UofG, and what does your current role involve?
I’ve been here since I graduated in 1999 in Management Studies. I started as an events assistant then moved into the alumni engagement area quite quickly, and I absolutely loved it from the word go. When I started, it was a really small department, but we have grown quite a bit over the years as the student and alumni bodies have more than doubled in size. This is great, as we can now do so much more to support this important and growing global community. I moved into my current role as Head of Alumni & Supporter Engagement about seven years ago and I have five teams that I manage, all with the purpose of engaging with our global alumni community. 

What's the best thing about representing UofG at alumni meetups and events? 
The people. I’ve met so many fantastic people doing incredible things in different countries, and they’ve all got this one place in common. Sharing that enthusiasm and warmth is just amazing. When you speak to alumni, they all say that the experience and the education that they had here has helped influence their lives today. They wouldn't be where they were, wouldn't be doing the jobs that they are – the good that they're doing – if it hadn’t been for the start they had at UofG. 

Which alumni that you’ve met over the years have made the greatest impact on you, and why?
So many come to mind – I always love hearing the first-hand experiences of those whose incredible stories we've read or written about. One such person was Gavin Vernon, whom I met out in Vancouver. He was one of the four UofG alumni who took the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey in 1950 and brought it back to Scotland. Hearing that story from him was amazing. Then recently, we spotlighted Dr Owase Jeelani, who studied medical ethics here and is now a paediatric neurosurgeon, about all the work he does on craniopagus conjoined twins – twins who are joined at the head. He's changed not just the lives of the children who are affected, but their families’ lives too.

"After chatting with one alum about his eminent career in medicine I remember coming away thinking, ‘I believe I’ve met a real world changer, and that's what it looks like'. It makes me emotional just thinking about that.
What have you learned about the University over your years working here that you didn’t know before?
As a child, I loved watching Doctor Who, and to find out that he is one of our fictional alumni was pretty cool. He apparently came here in the 1880s and sought the help of Lord Kelvin to create his 'sonic screwdriver'. So I love the fact that there's a Doctor Who connection, and I’ve often thought we should have a TARDIS on campus now. 

Me by Emily Howie group photo

Emily (front row, second from left) with the wider Development & Alumni team at a recent planning day. Image courtesy of Emily Howie.

What are some of the best alumni events you've attended or experiences you’ve had?
One of the most memorable events was on the Queen Mary, which was built in Glasgow and is docked in Long Beach, California. The alumni were all saying, “It’s supposed to be haunted!” and some of them actually stayed overnight there, because it’s also a hotel. They got in touch with me after I got home to Glasgow, saying they’d had an eerie experience there – they felt that they’d witnessed a supernatural presence on board the Queen Mary! Then my first time travelling to Hong Kong, on my own, always sticks with me. I landed in this far-flung place, totally jetlagged, and a group of alumni came and took me out for some of the best-tasting dim sum I’ve ever had. And we love that our alumni support our 'Behind the Scenes' event series, where those who work in unusual or exciting places offer guided tours of their workplaces. We’ve welcomed little groups of alumni to visit museums, galleries, auction houses and more. 

"I’m an alum. I’m a member of staff, I’m a current donor, and I’m also a bequest pledger. I truly believe in what this institution is doing.

What would our alumni be surprised to learn about you?
I make wedding cakes as a hobby and a bit of a side-hustle! I have my own website, Lady Emily Cakes, and I’ve made a couple of cakes for colleagues’ weddings. I usually work with sugarpaste – make sugarpaste flowers etc, but for one this year, it’ll be a naked red velvet cake, maybe with some fruit and flowers on it. I make novelty cakes as well – I did one with female mud wrestlers once! 

What's the first thing you do when you get home and close the door?
I go straight to the kitchen. It’s the heart of my home, always has been – even when I lived in student flats. I’ve taught my kids how to cook – we like to bake together. Banana cake is a favourite, and pavlova is my signature dish.

What does your perfect day look like?
It would be in a far-flung big city, somewhere like Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur or New York, and it would be shopping in the morning, then a street-food lunch somewhere, followed by sightseeing, then a fancy dinner with views over the city.

What food could you not live without?
Dumplings. I can make my own, but not quite to the standard that I would like.
Cook for friends or eat out?
Both – but I do love entertaining. I’ll do an open house, put on a buffet – but I do the sit-down meals as well. As a mum of three, I'm used to catering for many different requests.
What is the book you’ve read most times?
I’ve read The Acid House by Irvine Welsh several times. I thought One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night by Chris Brookmyre (MA 1989) was brilliant as well. I’ve been able to meet him on various occasions as he is ‘one of ours’. I’d like to meet Irvine Welsh too – but think I’d probably be a bit scared! 

Memories of Glasgow

I first came through to Glasgow for the nightclubs, which were better than the ones in my home town of Edinburgh! I made the absolute most of my student experience and really enjoyed everything Glasgow had to offer, but I pulled out all the stops in the end and got a 2:1. I learned that when I want to achieve something, I can bust a gut to make it happen. 

I joined the GUU in my first year and loved the big Daft Friday events, but I flitted between both unions as I also loved an occasional visit to Cheesy Pop at the QMU. I stayed in a little hall called Reith Hall, on Botanic Crescent looking over the River Kelvin, where I met all my friends – many of whom I’m still friends with now.   

I think back then, if I’d had to create a job I would have loved, it might have been this. It totally suits me. Whether the job has shaped me or I’ve shaped the job, I don’t know. Probably a bit of both. 

One of my favourite hangouts was the Hub [which is now rebuilt as the Fraser Building]. Bookshop down the stairs, cafe upstairs – I remember getting my chilli paninis in there. Plus the Sub Club and the Arches! 

Glasgow’s just a really multicultural place, always has been – I loved the warmth of the people. They are so genuinely friendly. There’s an edgy side to Glasgow, but that’s what makes it what it is – the raw humour in things. 

Emily loves the evolving nature of her work and the challenges it brings. “The alumni body has expanded so much from when I started – from 60,000 to nearly 200,000," she says. "So it's much bigger and globally diverse, and it's exciting to think about how we will develop our offering, using technology to support this important stakeholder group for the University."

As mentioned, in homage to our fictional alum, Doctor Who, Emily would also like to see a TARDIS permanently situated on campus! And at some point in the future, she would love to own a boutique hotel with a really nice restaurant and lovely little bar. 

Do you work in an interesting or unusual location? Would you be willing to show small groups of alumni 'behind the scenes' and host a UofG meetup at your workplace? Please get in touch, if so, at alumni@gla.ac.uk.

This article was first published April 2024.

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