New Technology to Scale-up Student Volunteering at NUI Galway

Celebrating the launch of are Breffni Gorman (Special Olympics Ireland); Matthew Farrell NUI Galway student; Laura Ledger NUI Galway student; Shane Gaughan NUI Galway student; Clare Cullen (Habitat for Humanity)
Dec 08 2016 Posted: 11:25 GMT
  • National Launch of

Every year in Ireland thousands of students from our universities and institutes of technology carry out over 100,000 hours of volunteering. Ten third level colleges have now joined forces to develop - a brand new online resource which matches students’ interests with volunteering opportunities. The portal is the first of its kind globally and aims to enhance students’ awareness of their role and responsibility in solving challenges such as homelessness, social exclusion and our ageing population.

“What I have found most rewarding about volunteering here in Galway is the sense of community which comes from getting to know a variety of people from different walks of life within the city. I certainly feel that I have more of a stake within this community, and not just a fleeting interest as part of student volunteering programme. The experience which I have gained from volunteering with the SVP has really put a more tangible or practical lens on all of the theoretical academic study which I have done as part of my degree”, said Aidan Harte, MA in Public Advocacy & Activism, NUI Galway.

Potential users include up to 100,847 (HEA 2015) students across all higher education institutions and up to 8,000 registered Civil Society Organisations. For charities such as Barnardos, Habitat for Humanity, TeenLine and Special Olympics Ireland, student volunteering is a vital component of their ongoing work:

“With over 3,000 registered volunteers under 25 years old, Special Olympics Ireland depend on the student volunteers among our younger supporters to assist with our fundraising activities and sustain our programmes through working in our clubs, helping at events and participating in committees at local and regional level,” said Claire O'Connor, Volunteer Services Manager, Special Olympics Ireland.

Shortlisted for the 2016 THINKTECH awards, has been developed under the umbrella of the Campus Engage Network based at the Irish Universities Association. There are currently 10 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) invested in the portal: UCD, NUI Galway, IT Tralee, UL, MU, Trinity, IT Tallaght, DCU, UCC and DIT. The online system is open to ALL Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), private colleges, VECs, etc.

Students can browse and apply for volunteering opportunities nationally or internationally; manage their profile and volunteering activity online; track volunteering hours; gain recognition and apply for volunteering awards.

The civic role and responsibility of colleges and their graduates is becoming a central issue in the global education discussion, with increasing pressure on institutions to demonstrate how higher education is adding value to society.

“By effectively using technology to make volunteering easier, Campus Engage is helping universities and institutes of technology to scale up this socially impactful enterprise,” said Kate Morris, National Coordinator, Campus Engage, Irish Universities Association.

The value of volunteering is recognised by the United Nations who have designated December 5th as International Volunteer Day (IVD).   

Volunteering has numerous benefits for students and for society. Ireland’s new National Skills Strategy 2025 focuses on graduate attributes such as high level cognitive, leadership, entrepreneurial, analytical and interpersonal skills. Volunteering is an excellent outlet for students to test, refine and put these skills into action. These skills are very much valued by employers:

“In an increasingly competitive employment market, when I review CV’s the selflessness of a volunteer can stand out like a beacon in a sea of self-interest. The functional expertise that a volunteer can learn in an organisation, offers a head start compared to others who start at the beginning when entering permanent employment for the first time,” said Billy Norman, Customer Account Manager in Unilever.

“I volunteered in a youth cafe ran by Galway Autistic Partnership (GAP). The youth cafe provides an outlet for kids and young teenagers with autism to socialise with one another by interacting through technology and various games and activities. Autism is something I had no previous experience of and so attending the club was an education in itself. The experience was invaluable to me as an Occupational Therapy student and it was very relevant to my future line of work,” said Louise Ryan, student, NUI Galway.

Evidence shows that getting out and volunteering can improve individual mental health and well-being. Volunteering is also an excellent pathway for international students in Ireland to integrate into their communities and make new friends.  Higher education institutions across the country are battling student retention. Getting involved in extracurricular activity on and off campus is proven to keep students in college. International volunteering cultivates core graduate attributes such as cultural awareness, languages and increased understanding of global social responsibility.

“I was a literacy support mentor with the Claddagh National School, Galway for 8 weeks. As a student of English, I found it encouraging knowing that my help had a positive influence on a child's confidence in reading. The literacy support programme has a huge impact on developing the reading and communications skills of Primary School children and university students get a chance to act as responsible mentors and apply their knowledge through helping young children with their work,” said Princess Okonkwo, student, NUI Galway.

Higher education institutions are now acknowledging students’ volunteering achievements on their academic transcripts or diploma supplements. Participating colleges are beginning to use to track their students’ volunteer hours so they can recognise their efforts at the end of the college year in Awards ceremonies such as NUI Galway’s Presidential Award for Volunteering - the ALIVE Certificate.



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