Our student volunteers

Meet some of our student volunteers and find out about their experiences with volunteering.

Volunteering on the airwaves

Volunteering is something of a rewarding juggling act for Arts/Law student and 95bFM radio host, Caitlin McIlhagga.

Host of the student radio station’s current affairs show, The Wire, Caitlin’s volunteering role was a long-awaited one.

“I grew up listening to bFM and have always wanted to be a part of the station. When I got to university, an email went around the English Department asking for news writers at bFM. I don't know that I've ever replied to an email so fast in my life,” she says.

That was five years ago, and in that time Caitlin has contributed about 10 hours per week in various roles.

“Over the years I've produced other Wires, had various news writing and reading shifts, covered other DJ shows, and helped out at events like Laneway and the Big Day Out.”Balancing her studies with a part time job and her volunteering commitments has taught her real-world skills like prioritising.

“It's definitely a balancing act, especially with a 10-hour a week part-time job as well. I feel like university and bFM are both things that you could put unlimited hours into - you'll never have read all the books for an assignment, or have cleaned all the weird cupboards at bFM.

“It's a good time management exercise, in that respect. You have to look at the bigger picture, not just the most immediate to-do.”

Opportunity to contribute to a great cause

Twelve years’ service to St John Youth has given mechanical engineer and PhD candidate Elinor Swery valuable life experience and the opportunity to contribute to a great cause.

“I saw first-hand the impact that volunteers have on the community and I wanted to contribute to this. It is immensely satisfying knowing that you have made a difference in someone else's life,” she says.

Elinor volunteers around 10 hours each week with the organisation, which she managed to fit around her university schedule during her time as an undergraduate.“I mostly volunteered in the evenings and weekends so there was never any clash with lectures. It is always tricky to fit assignments and study around, but the busier you are the better you become at managing your time.”

This year, she is coordinating the National Youth Festival, where around 200 people come together for four days.

“It’s a really big task and seeing it take shape is really humbling.”

A gold Leadership and Service Award and multiple Blues Award recipient, Elinor says the skills she has gained from volunteering have helped her career.

“The people skills you gain from volunteering are so valuable. I use these in my career every day.”

Volunteering gives unique life experience

Spending several months volunteering at the Elizabeth Knox Home and Hospital has helped second-year science student, Hanbi Sung You, feel part of a welcoming and supportive community.

“Elizabeth Knox’s principle abolishes the traditional hierarchy from CEO down to volunteers; rather we were told in the beginning that we were equal to everyone else,” she says.

The charitable trust values making each day special and meaningful for its residents, who are treated as individuals. Hanbi valued her everyday interactions with residents and savours the emotional connections she made.

“My most enjoyable experiences were the collection of small, yet loving gestures the residents would show and say. The wave of ‘thank you dears’ and ‘good mornings’ took me aback slightly as I was not accustomed to so much politeness. Those simple gestures brighten up my day.”

The medicinal chemistry student was awarded a Leadership & Service Award for spending a couple of hours a week volunteering over the past year. The panel was impressed with her well-written application and the way Hanbi developed her skills.

“My confidence has increased – particularly in approaching professional staff and residents to solve problems or just making casual conversation. Volunteering has further solidified my skills in working with people of a greater age range.”

Hanbi encourages her fellow students to widen their social interactions and take advantage of what older generations can pass on.

“We will probably always be surrounded by people our own age, why not explore a new community of people?

“Seek a deeper understanding about human beings from individuals who have already experienced everything from their careers and relationships with plenty of failures and successes.”

Working towards improving public health

Volunteering for the Heart Foundation offers third-year Social Science student, Joshua Ho, an opportunity to get a foot in the door to a career in public health as well as give back to his community.

Joshua, who is helping to coordinate the Heart Foundation’s Annual Street Appeal on Friday 26 and Saturday 27 February, dedicates between five and 10 hours a week to the cause.

“I’ve really enjoyed this opportunity to experience something new and help the community. One of the reasons I wanted to volunteer is to use the knowledge I’ve gained from my studies and apply this to the health system in the real world.”

Volunteering on the Annual Street Appeal is a good fit for Joshua’s lifestyle, as it occurs before the university year starts, which means he has more free time to put in the volunteer hours.

His role includes booking collection sites, recruiting and providing support for volunteer site coordinators, distributing collection material, preparing banking instructions and much, much more.

Once the appeal has finished, Joshua hopes to use his experience to help promote other public health interests.

“My plan is to remain in the health system and promote healthier eating habits as well as educate parents and young adults how to appreciate and cook nutritious food which will benefit their health.”

Providing affordable snow sports to students

For University of Auckland Snowsports Club (UASC) President, Danyal Taylor, volunteering is about doing what he can to give students affordable access to snowsports.

“UASC is a non-profit organisation providing snowsports to students and making it as affordable as possible. We are lucky enough to have a lodge on Whakapapa Ski Field in the snow which is really unique and it is all managed and maintained by the committee,” he says.

Danyal, a third-year business student, got involved in the club two years ago after staying at the lodge during mid-semester break.

“I started talking with members of the committee who were at the lodge. I ended up joining the committee the following year and progressed until I was president.”

Dedicating his spare time to managing events, bookings, and maintenance on the lodge on Mt Ruapehu takes more than 20 hours per week, but Danyal says the amount of effort is reflective of the club’s success this year.

“At the beginning of the year, we set the goal of increasing our membership from 600 to 1,000. We have now well surpassed 1,000 members. This increase gives everyone within the club more opportunity to meet like-minded people who want to take up an awesome sport and make some new friends.”

Danyal says an interest in taking up a new sport and meeting new people is what made him want to become so actively involved with the club. The experience has been a rewarding one.

“When club members come to you and say 'that was the most amazing trip I have ever done', it definitely keeps you involved since you've made a positive impact on someone’s life.”

With another year left at university, he’s looking ahead to further improvements to the lodge and then starting his own business after graduation.

“I would like to undertake huge necessary developments of the lodge by re-doing the interior to make it a warmer and more comfortable environment.

“Long-term, I would like to start my own business with a smartphone application idea that won best idea award in the Spark Entrepreneurship Programme – if you're a developer, get in touch with me – and I also want to travel the world!”

Pathway to a fulfilling career

The wide range of support services Arts and Law student Dewy Sacayan was offered as a first-year student inspired her to give back to the University.

“I was pampered by all the services and guidance a student could ask for. This made me want to give back to those who helped me and show my previous mentors that they have inspired me to help others just as they helped me,” she says.

Dewy spends about eight hours per week volunteering for the University’s First Year Experience programme UN Youth and the New Zealand Centre for Human Rights, Law, Policy and Practice

“The further I got into my degree, the more I became aware of what I was passionate about. This made me branch out to other volunteering organisations such as UN Youth and the Human Rights Centre.”

The BA/LLB student sees her volunteering as complementing, rather than competing with her studies.

“Since my volunteering activities are University-based, it fits perfectly with my studies. Yes, there were moments when I thought that I had bitten off more than I could chew. However, one of the joys of volunteering is that you will always have a supportive team who loves the work that they do and who you can turn to for pastoral and moral support.”

Dewy says the highlight of her volunteering experience to date was project-managing a relief drive for the Typhoon Haiyan victims during University exams.

“I flew to the Philippines with my family and together we helped around 500 families with their basic necessities as well as donating school supplies to benefit hundreds of students.”

Dewy’s career goal is to use her conjoint degree and volunteer experience to work in developing countries. “I want a career that focuses on human rights and one that is hands on in terms of helping people.”

Volunteering to tackle the world’s injustices

Second-year engineering student Charlie Norton started volunteering in May last year, and has quickly progressed to Head of Operations at P3 Foundation (New Zealand’s largest youth-led development organisation) and President of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) – Auckland Students’ Chapter.

“I've been very fortunate and benefited from great experiences and mentors. However, it's important not to simply live life with your hands out,” Charlie says.

“An alarmingly high number of people do not have access to the same basic liberties as me, and that's not okay. From food access to free speech, there is a societal imbalance; I aim to change that.”

Charlie was also selected as one of 25 New Zealand Youth Ambassadors at the Anzac Centenary Commemorations in Gallipoli, Turkey, earlier this year – a four week commitment which required some juggling of assignments and other coursework.

“My tutors and course coordinators, especially Dr Jon Pearce and Kevin Jia, were very considerate and made it possible to submit all assignments before departure. By letting them know as soon as possible, they were able to release resources and offer assistance early.”

“I'm studying engineering to be able to enact large scale change through my career. I hope to use what I'm learning in both my university and volunteer roles to tackle the world's injustices head-on.”