Inside Track - 9 May 2016 - Professor Vivien Jones

Making a difference: Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Student Education Professor Vivien Jones reflects on student volunteering and our IntoUniversity partnership.

Professor Vivien Jones

At the LeedsforLife Citizenship Awards held during Celebrate Week, Dulcie Hewew, a final-year student from the School of English, won this year’s award for Outstanding Contribution. 

During her time at Leeds, with no fuss and less ego, Dulcie has been involved in an extraordinary number of projects: working with the homeless and with refugees and asylum seekers; mentoring and aspiration-raising with schoolchildren; supporting older people; and organising ‘pay-as-you-feel’ cafés, intercepting food waste.  She was also part of the Intercultural Ambassador programme, and led fourteen young people to champion their own community projects through the National Citizenship Scheme.

The Project of the Year Award went to Edoardo Bono, a Master's student in Civil Engineering.  Shocked by the low levels of health and well-being in the local population during a holiday trip to Madagascar, Edoardo used his academic subject-based expertise to train the members of a poor community to set up their own safe water and sanitation systems, massively improving their general standard of health. Working almost single-handedly to start with, he has now also set up a charity to continue the project.

These are just two outstanding and humbling examples of the volunteering work that has been undertaken by some 35,000 of our students over the last decade, making a positive difference to hundreds of thousands of lives.  And these examples help make clear, I hope, why Celebrate Week, and the LeedsforLife Citizenship Awards in particular, have consistently been one of the highlights of the year for me during my ten years as Pro-Vice-Chancellor.

From comparatively modest beginnings, student volunteering at Leeds has become one of the strongest features of our co-curricular provision, enabled by the commitment and creativity of Greg Miller and his team in the Student Education Service’s Student Opportunity Directorate. Colleagues who attend the Citizenship Awards are always amazed and moved. I just hope many more staff will come along in future years to witness our students’ generosity and achievements.  

During Celebrate Week I also attended the official launch in Beeston in South Leeds of the University’s second after-school centre, established in partnership with the national charity IntoUniversity.  At these lively, community-based after-school clubs, disadvantaged young people from the age of seven upwards are encouraged to aspire to university and taught the academic skills they need to help them realise their ambitions.

Following the huge success of our first IntoUniversity centre in Harehills in east Leeds, we have been able to set up this second centre, with support from Asda’s social fund and, as with the first centre, through the huge generosity of several of our alumni.  Students are also part of this important partnership, giving their time as classroom assistants and mentors.  

The Education strand of our strategic plan commits us to equip our students not just for success in a global graduate employment market, but to 'make a difference'.  An over-used phrase, perhaps, but one given real meaning by these recent celebrations.  Alumni whose Leeds experience made a huge difference to their lives are generous in giving something back, not just to current students but in helping fulfil the University’s wider responsibility to make a difference to the educational aspirations of young people in some of the poorest areas of the city; and students who volunteer in so many ways to make a positive difference for others will take that experience with them as an indelible influence throughout their lives.

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