Members of the Regional Board
Susan Elston – Regional Chair
Susan, an MBA graduate, was born in Middlesbrough and moved to Aberdeen in 1999. She joined Sodexo in 2011 following a career in oil and gas operations, and recently retired from the position of Senior Vice President responsible for Offshore Operations in the North Sea and is the Global HSE Lead for Offshore and Marine.
In addition to being a Member of the Regional Board of NESCol, Susan is also the Chair of the Board of Aberdeen Foyer, a former Board Member of Oil & Gas UK, and Trustee of Hardship Committee of Oil & Gas UK Chaplaincy.
Susan is a recipient of the Institute of Directors Scottish Female Director of the Year Award and Grampian Director of the Year, and has received numerous awards for safety, including the British Safety Council Sword of Honour and seven consecutive RoSPA Sector Awards.
She is a member of the Sodexo Women’s International Forum for talent (SWIFt) and co–sponsor of the Women’s Leadership Development Programme.
Neil Cowie – Principal and Chief Executive
Neil was born and brought up in ‘Little Scotland’ (Corby, Northants) but moved to Buckie, Moray in his early teens. 8 years after this relocation Neil graduated with an honours degree in Sociology from the University of Aberdeen. His first ‘proper job’ was as a seasonal sales assistant in a Union Street record shop. Shortly afterwards he was promoted to Assistant Manager, working in the company’s Aberdeen and Dundee stores. Long-standing public service ambitions eventually led him to a 9 year career in social housing. In that time he worked for several social housing providers in various roles ranging from temporary Rent Arrears Assistant to Area Housing Manager. During his housing career Neil gained a Postgraduate Diploma in Housing Studies from Sheffield Hallam University as well as Corporate Membership of Chartered Institute of Housing (CIOH). He was also a member of the Branch Committee of the CIOH in Scotland.
Passionate about education and keen to try teaching, Neil applied for a vacancy at Banff and Buchan College and in December 1999 began working there as a Lecturer in Sociology. Over the following 13 years Neil held several posts within the College namely Schools Liaison Officer, Curriculum Leader (Social Sciences, ESOL and Core Skills), Sector Manager (Social Studies and Creative Arts) and Assistant Principal (Curriculum and Quality). At its inception Neil joined North East Scotland College (NESCol) as Vice Principal and was, over time, to hold senior management responsibility for most of the College’s support-related operational areas. Neil has also held senior management responsibility for all the College’s curriculum, Business and Community Development and quality-related activities. Neil retains an active interest in quality improvement and has been a long-standing Associate Assessor with Education Scotland. In December 2019, Neil became NESCol’s Principal and Chief Executive, 20 years after he first started his College career. He remains a strong advocate for further education and continues to champion its ability to transform and improve the life chances of many.
Carrie grew up in Buckie, Moray until moving to Aberdeen in her late teens. She is a mum to two teenagers and a very excitable cat called Toast. She played as a drummer for Buckie & District Pipe Band for 8 years, which took her all over Scotland and to The Netherlands, experiencing some incredible adventures.
After spending much of her working life as a cleaner Carrie applied to join NESCol to study Social Care. She is passionate about accessibility and equality and has always wanted to dedicate her time towards helping others. After being elected to be Deputy President for the Student Association, Carrie has taken a year off from studying to work with them to help improve each students’ experience.
David Blackhall – Teaching Staff Member
David joins the Regional Board as the Teaching Staff Board member.
David is a lifelong “Brocher” having been born and educated in Fraserburgh and is an advocate of the ‘Doric language’. David also attended Buchan Technical College in Fraserburgh as a day release apprentice studying engineering.
Next David’s career led him to complete an adult apprenticeship in Electrical Engineering, with Banff and Buchan College – which he attended for 6 years.
David has gained a wealth of experience in the oil industry, working both offshore and onshore with Electrical, Electro-Mechanical, Electro Hydraulic installations and ROV’s.
David joined Banff and Buchan College as a lecturer in 2006, and with the exception of a short break he spent back in industry, has worked in both the Fraserburgh and Altens Campuses as a lecturer in Electrical Engineering. David is a strong advocate of further education and is keen to help develop all Nescol students.
David’s interests outside of work are firstly his wife and two kids; wider family and friends and, being a former coach of his son’s team, football remains a passion, along with watching and participating in motor sports and 80s music.
Dr Duncan Cockburn is currently Vice Principal for Strategy and Planning at Robert Gordon University. Duncan has many years of experience in higher education, having spent the majority of his career working in the sector in a variety of roles. He is a graduate of the University of Aberdeen, holding a MA honours degree and a PhD both in History. He is a former President of the University of Aberdeen’s Student Association.
Duncan took up his first role in the higher education sector in 2004 as Head of sparqs (Student Participation in Quality Scotland) before joining RGU in 2008 as the Principal’s Policy Advisor. He was appointed as the Director of Planning and Policy in 2013 and then to his current role as Vice Principal for Strategy & Planning at the University in 2022. As Vice Principal, Duncan is the executive lead for several departments, including Marketing & Communications; Student Recruitment, Access & Admissions; the Gatehouse Design and Print department as well as Planning & Insight.
Outwith work, Duncan is active in the cultural sector, he was appointed to the Board of Creative Scotland in 2019. He is also a Board member of both Aberdeen Performing Arts and Sound. He is a former Chair of the Look Again visual arts and design festival and a former Chair of Culture Aberdeen.
Jim has been a Councillor on Aberdeenshire Council since May 2007 and served as leader for more than six years and has vast experience in local government. He served as Chair of the Community Planning Partnership Board amongst a number of other senior duties.
For 18 years, Jim owned and operated a sign making business Signs Express (Aberdeen) having previously had a career onshore and offshore in Oil & Gas specialising in underwater survey and inspection work.
Jim brings experience and expertise in oil and gas as well as in the wider business and enterprise sphere to the Board.
Bryan has lived in Fraserburgh from a very young age and after leaving Fraserburgh Academy he achieved a B.Eng Honours degree in Electrical and Electronic engineering from RGIT. Bryan has continued his engineering career over the last 30 years in the energy industry to this day where he is currently Engineering Director with Petrofac.
Bryan is a Chartered Engineer, a Fellow of the IET and takes an active role in developing graduates within the industry and mentoring engineers through the Chartership process.
Bryan is a lifelong learner and mid-career had a strong desire to expanded his knowledge and learning outside of engineering successfully completing an MBA with the Open University Business School.
Bryan lives in Fraserburgh with his wife and three children and enjoys cycling and photography in his spare time.
Nicole grew up in Aberdeenshire and attended Robert Gordon’s College, from where she then went on to study HNC Textiles at NESCol in 2021.
Nicole has worked in multiple sales assistant roles and is now Students’ Association Regional President. As Students’ Association Regional President, Nicole hopes to create a community spirit within the College and improve engagement amongst students and staff.
Nicole is a keen advocate for equal human rights and student mental health and well-being. She hopes to create a fun and friendly environment for students in her year of election.
Nicole enjoys singing and is an avid reader of all genres. Her interests lie heavily in art as well as enjoying designing and creating garments. Further outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her family and pets.
Leona McDermid has been Chief Executive of Aberdeen Foyer since 2018, having joined the charity 10 years earlier. Foyer’s aims of reducing the cause and effects of poverty on youth homelessness across the region have great synergies with the College’s aims and there has been a productive partnership between the organisations for many years. Leona is also the current chair of Firstport, Scotland’s agency for start-up social entrepreneurs and social enterprise, and is a Committee Member of the Third Sector Employability Forum.
Neil has held a number of key roles in supporting change and improvement in education. After a teaching career in the central belt he was seconded to Learning & Teaching Scotland (now Education Scotland) as a National Development Officer. After two successful secondments implementing national policy he moved to the North East as Quality Improvement Officer (Education, Culture and Sport) for Aberdeen City Council where he also undertook a period as Acting Service Manager (Schools & Curriculum). He currently supports leaders in across public services in his role as Senior Lecturer and Director of Leadership Programmes at the University of Aberdeen.
Neil has led a number of national education and professional membership bodies. He is a former President of the Scottish Association of Teachers of History (SATH) and the Enterprise Practitioners’ Association (EPA), a former co–chair and the General Secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh Young Academy of Scotland. He has been a non–executive director of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) Foundation and the Scottish College for Educational Leadership (SCEL), and a former a Scottish Fellowship Councillor for the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). He remains a board director for the Connect (formerly Scottish Parent Teacher Council) and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) as well as a Lay Committee members for Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE).
Neil was awarded Professional Recognition in Enterprise Education by the General Teaching Council Scotland and also was the recipient of a Royal Society of Edinburgh Medal for “for his outstanding contribution to civic society, creativity and social enterprise, education and the social sciences.” In 2016 he was a Scottish Business 40Under40. Outside of work Neil enjoys historic research, travel and the fine food and drink of the north east of Scotland.
Andrew Rodden is Energy Transition Programme Director – Offshore Renewables, at Opportunity North East (ONE), a private sector catalyst for economic diversification and renewal across north east Scotland. ONE works with partners to deliver the region’s ambition to be a globally recognised centre for energy transition, with the Energy Transition Zone at the heart of a sustainable, global integrated energy transition cluster focused on net-zero activity.
Andrew has over 15 years’ experience in senior leadership and project roles across the energy sector. With an initial career in the Merchant Navy cover deep sea trades and Offshore Construction before coming ashore 20 years ago, Andrew has undertaken a number of roles across the Marine, Defence, Fabrication sectors before moving into Economic Development within a privately funded not-for-profit.
Sheena Ross: Sheena has lived in North East Scotland her whole life. She gained an Honours degree in Business Studies from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen before undertaking her Chartered Accountancy exams, where she qualified as a CA in 1995 while working for James Milne & Co, a chartered accountancy practise in Aberdeen.
After working in industry as a Financial Accountant, Sheena moved to Johnston Carmichael in Fraserburgh as a Business Advisory Director. Sheena has recently joined Leiper and Summers, Chartered Accountants in Fraserburgh as a Client Manager where she continues to help owner managed businesses in the North East of Scotland, specialising in rural and agricultural businesses. In 2018/19 Sheena took part in Scottish Enterprise’s Rural Leadership Programme which included visiting the parliaments in Brussels, London and Edinburgh.
Sheena has, over the past number of years been involved at Nescol’s Fraserburgh Campus as a guest lecturer for HNC and HND Accountancy where she helped enhance students’ knowledge and understanding of the accountancy work.
Sheena lives on the family farm with her husband and two children, all of whom help her busy out with work. She also enjoys yoga, being part of her local village choir, attending music concerts and socialising with friends.
Drew Russell – Vice Regional Chair
Born in Hamilton, Drew was educated at Earnock High School, Bell College of Technology and Jordanhill College of Education. On graduation he became a Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at Thurso Technical College, before embarking on a 35
While working for international contracting organisations in the topside, subsea and subsurface arenas, Drew travelled extensively, overseeing project execution, HS&E and business development activities across the globe. More recently Drew worked for two North Sea operating companies where he led major transition and transformation programmes. Drew was also director of the Offshore Contractors Association.
Outside his business interests, Drew enjoys watching rugby union, gardening and DIY, Drew is married with two grown–up daughters and lives in Durris.
Gwen Watt — Support Staff Member
Born in Peterhead, educated and brought up in Fraserburgh attending Fraserburgh Academy, and Banff & Buchan College of FE, Gwen graduated in 1998 with a HND in Administration & Information Management. Gwen started working at Banff & Buchan College as a Word Processor in 1998. This is where Gwen’s employment has been since, excluding a 9 month spell at Score Energy, Peterhead, in 2012 where she worked as a Senior Administrator/Deputy Team Lead of Production Control. On returning to College after her time at Score, Gwen took up a role in Student Records. During merger an opportunity arose to change direction completely and work within the curriculum as a Guidance Tutor. Having thoroughly enjoyed this role and working alongside students, Gwen felt that she had found her calling. It was during this time that she completed a Post Graduate Certificate in Adult Guidance. A restructure related to student support services at the College in 2018 then afforded Gwen the opportunity to take up a line management role as Student Support Coordinator, a role which she thoroughly enjoys with its focus on helping students to achieve their full potential.
Gwen is a mother of three teenage boys. During her time as a mother she has undertaken many volunteering roles in the community from successfully campaigning to retain Maternity Services in Fraserburgh to Parent Councils, PTAs, Playgroup Committee Management and, since 2009, in the role of Club Secretary of Fraserburgh Linkup Youth Football Club. The Football Club has taken major strides forward in the past five years, including gaining SYFA Development Club Accreditation, an achievement Gwen is immensely proud of.
As a firm believer in further education and the opportunities it provides for the transformation of lives, Gwen looks forward to the contributions she came make during her time as a Member of the Regional Board.
Iain brings with him many years of experience in the oil and gas sector involved in Project Management, and is currently Head of Facilities and Projects with Repsol Sinopec Resources, where he is accountable for the delivery of all major projects, brownfield modifications and repair orders across RSR’s live operating assets. Iain, when not working is a keen golfer and is a member at Inverallochy Golf Club, and is also closely involved in his local community including the annual Cairnbulg Walk. He is a previous Chairman of both the Parent Council of the local primary school and also the Community Council. Iain is very much looking forward to working with NESCol’s regional board.