Can you tell us more about yourself?
I graduated from RGU in 2012 with a media degree. After university, I disappeared over to the US to work for the YMCA for a few years. I came back to the UK in January of 2017 where I took on my current position as the Student Development and Volunteering Co-ordinator at RGU. This is a very open role where I work around a lot of different things.
What are the different volunteering opportunities at RGU?
You can find the majority of our volunteering opportunities at RGU with the Union. They include roles within societies, student groups and networks. But we also provide a volunteering platform where external providers can offer up their roles. We then have to review and approve them before listing them on our website as opportunities for students to consider.
I always make sure that the volunteer roles I offer with external organisations fit our three core ethics. There needs to be a benefit to the student taking on the role as well as a benefit for the community and the organisation. If the role doesn’t provide all three, it will let someone down eventually.
Some of our opportunities are long term volunteering roles. Within RGU, students can get involved in our NightLine or Peer Support project for example. There are also opportunities to volunteer with some of the charity shops around Aberdeen where students have to commit to a set amount of hours.
Alternatively, places like Inchgarth community centre offer options between long term commitments, such as volunteering every Wednesday afternoon, and occasional work, such as giving a hand for an event for example.
How can students’ volunteering efforts be recognised?
The great thing about RGU’s acknowledgement of volunteering hours is that it is fully recognised by the university. This means that RGU includes these hours onto students’ transcripts if they submitted them to the Union. Each February we look at students’ entire last years’ worth of volunteering hours and review them with the person listed as their “verifier”.
Submitting hours is essential in getting your involvement recognised as a verified volunteering role. However, there are still many students who aren’t doing it. For example, we have 400 Class Representatives who are considered volunteers. They sometimes don’t see what they’ve done as full on volunteering so don’t think to count their hours. This is a shame as we can’t give them the credit that they deserve.
Other than that, students under 25 are also able to apply for the Saltire Awards, recognised by the Scottish Government. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t have any award for those over 25. But if that’s your case, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t submit your hours to us. Your work will still be acknowledged on your RGU transcript.
What are the main benefits of volunteering with RGU?
The main benefits of volunteering for students can vary based on what they’re hoping to get out of it. Sometimes, if you’re in a course that is very text heavy, I think there can be incredible value in volunteering to build your own soft skills and put into practice the ones you’ve learned in your course.
One of the great things about societies and student groups and networks is that you can start with the smallest step. Then from there, you can build and develop your confidence. Let’s take the example of students volunteering for the media group. When some people start, they may write one article a year, and that’s great. It’s still more than what they were doing before. So, as you get more confident in the skills you’ve developed, you can progress a little bit further. Instead of writing one article a year, you might write one article a semester. Or write three articles a semester.
As time goes on, you might start becoming a bit more focused on one specific topic and become the sports editor. Or you might think about becoming the content head so you would work on the digital and videography side of the production. You might even find your niche and start releasing a podcast.
If you find the right role for you, you can grow into it and develop your unique skills.Euan Walker – Volunteering Co-ordinator at RGU
And obviously, one of the things I haven’t touched on yet is the employability aspect of it. A lot of career opportunities are looking for a university degree and several years of experience. So the best thing to do is to get the experience while you’re at university. You can say “I’ve got my degree but I also have two years of functional experience in digital marketing because I did it for this charity while I was studying”. This will be very helpful to kickstart your career.
What makes RGU a great place to volunteer?
I think that RGU in particular is a really great place for students to volunteer because our courses are focused around employability and gaining the practical skills for your future career. And because of that, from the start, you’re in a position where you’re able to contribute effectively in your volunteering role.
So if you are studying media, you can hit the ground running, doing a bit of video production for example. A lot of the pharmacy students will go out and volunteer with pharmacists to try and develop their skills. If you’re studying Sports Science, you can be part of many projects involving youth and physical activities.
Volunteering at RGU really helps you put into practice the skills that you are learning in the classroom. In the end, it all ties together with the degree you’re getting and the experience you need.
Are there any pre-requirements needed to become a volunteer?
It depends on what kind of volunteering you’re looking to do. Obviously, if you’re wanting to get involved in something hyper specific, you might need some prior knowledge.
For example, if you are passionate about IT, but you don’t have any experience, it might be difficult to teach the seniors at the community centre about using the products. However, it wouldn’t necessarily be a barrier to entry. It may just be that the organisation would need to see what you actually know before putting you in a certain role.
Some opportunities will also require a PVG (Protecting Vulnerable Group) check. However, most that require it will also provide you the opportunity to get it through them.
Outside of that, you need to be ready to commit your time. If you say to an organisation that you are going to volunteer for a certain amount of time, at a certain time of day, on a certain day of the week, you have to commit to that. It’s all about approaching the volunteering opportunity the same way you would a part-time job and treating it with the respect it deserves. If you do, the organisation that you’re working with will appreciate your input and valuable contribution.
How can students start their volunteering journey at RGU?
To get started with us the best place would be to go to the RGU Union website and click on “Get Involved”. There is a volunteering section there where you can log in with your university username and password. From there, you will be able to scroll through a series of available opportunities. The system is very simple. If you want to register your interest in one of those opportunities, just hit the button on the screen. It will log your interest and send your contact details to the provider.
Do you have any advice for students thinking about volunteering?
I would always encourage students to look for volunteering opportunities that are both beneficial to them and the organisation they’re working for. It’s not selfish to think that volunteering should be a two-way street. There’s often that bias that if you’re volunteering there doesn’t need to be anything in it for yourself because you’re deciding to give your time away. The truth is, the best volunteering roles value their volunteers. So finding the right opportunity is essential to feel like an appreciated member of the organisation. This will make the experience significantly better for you in the long run.
We also always encourage students to not overburden themselves. If you’re working on your dissertation for example, you can find more flexible volunteering opportunities that will fit in your schedule better.
If you’re thinking about volunteering, it’s never too late to do it.Euan Walker – Volunteering Co-ordinator at RGU
If you have any doubts, talk to someone. There’s there’s no harm in reaching out, we’re not scary. Even if you’re not sure about what kind of volunteering you want to be doing, you can always talk to your lecturers about it. You can ask them if they need help for the Open Days and let them know how you are willing to contribute. Are you happy doing a tour? Do you want to man a desk? Just let them know.
The most important thing to remember is that we never push anyone into it. You are the expert in yourself. All we’re here to do is provide you with opportunities to experience new things. Contact us if you want to start your volunteering journey at RGU!