She was the first president of the National Union of Students from a post-92 university. And now Gemma Tumelty is flying the flag for "new" universities once more, as public affairs officer for the mission group Million+.
Her new role will see her lobbying MPs and policy-makers, dealing with the press and ensuring that the achievements of the group's 28 new universities are heard.
"Going to university changed my life and put me on a completely different path. This is now a chance to pay that back," Ms Tumelty, , said.
Million+ was formerly known as Campaigning for Mainstream Universities, but it relaunched with a new focus as a university think-tank last year.
"Since the rebrand we have done a lot more research reports, so I'm looking forward to getting involved with these and influencing higher education policy on the basis of research that is relevant not only to universities that subscribe to Million+, but which is of real relevance to government, policymakers and politicians on a cross-party basis," Ms Tumelty said.
Forthcoming reports will examine the group's international links and the contribution of Million+ universities to social mobility.
"A lot of the things I worked on at the NUS - access to education, university funding - I will carry on here," said Ms Tumelty, who left the NUS in June.
She got involved in student politics while studying psychology at Liverpool John Moores University. "I was brought up as a feminist, and I got involved with the women's campaign," she said. "I decided to go for women's officer, got that and got hooked on student politics."
She chose Liverpool John Moores on the strength of its open day, but she almost decided against higher education.
"I applied to a few places, but I suddenly felt like it wasn't something I should do. My mum made sure I did go, but I've always been very aware that without my stepdad it would have been a real struggle financially."
Ms Tumelty was predicted to get good grades at A level.
"I could have got into a different university, but when I was visiting campuses I felt instantly at home in the more modern universities, particularly Liverpool John Moores.
"There is an element of cultural capital I think people underestimate. Some institutions can feel very different on the ground - the types of students they have there, the traditions they have. It can be very alienating.
"Is an Oxford or Cambridge experience the best for everyone? Probably not. I know that it wouldn't have been best for me," she said.