On-campus engagement helps students hone key skills
Amit Sikder and Sophia Salem set aside time each week to help out fellow students, but the hours they put in are also an investment in themselves.
Sikder and Salem volunteer in various roles on and off campus. Both are Student Success Leaders (SSLs), assigned by the Success Centre to different units seeking to improve student life.
Salem is a fourth-year English and history major looking to go to teacher’s college. She started working as an SSL last year and intends to continue with the program when she returns for a fifth year.
For Salem, the program is a give and take. As with a job, she’s expected to fulfill certain duties, but she’s also able to turn to mentors for advice and attend workshops on public speaking—a skill she says has always come as a challenge.
“One of the things we do at the beginning of the year is goal-setting, and one of mine was to get in front of a group and present,” said Salem.
After a “super awkward and embarrassing” first experience as a presenter, Salem was disappointed but not deterred. She went from presenting in front of one person to speaking to a hundred people when she recently hosted an orientation day.
On the volunteer experience she said, “We’re also doing it for ourselves, and I don’t think that’s being selfish.”
It’s not surprising that students have been making the most of volunteer opportunities to develop their leadership skills.
A recent study sponsored by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario confirmed what seems intuitive: that students engaged in supportive programs on campus are likely to develop key skills for school and the workplace.
The study tracked the progress of students in the University of Guelph’s Peer Helpers Program over the course of three years. Researchers compared their progress to those in comparable programs and to students who were not involved, measuring skills like “managing self,” “communicating,” and “mobilizing innovation and change.”
The U of G researchers didn’t find the same skill development in students engaged off-campus and those who weren’t engaged at all.
Sikder, a third-year student who’s been involved on campus and in the community, said volunteering on campus has its unique perks.
His SSL placement is in the Student Wellness Centre, where he’s helped with November’s Stomp Out Stigma campaign and the MacSecret initiative.
“I really enjoy networking with people my own age,” he said. “And when you’re just starting out, you need guidance and mentorship. There are programs on campus designed for people in those situations.”
A biology and psychology student aspiring to work in medicine, Sikder said his volunteer experience is helping him communicate with more confidence.
“I want to be someone [patients] can trust to get help,” he said.
Fortunately, Sikder said, he’s not in a difficult financial position and doesn’t have to take on a part-time job.
Shaimaa Abousidou shares that perspective. A fellow SSL, she studies full-time and commutes from Brampton, which doesn’t leave much time for a job in Hamilton. Thankfully, she said, income isn’t a major issue.
In the career assistance unit, Abousidou reviews students’ resumes and leads professional development workshops.
“I treat it as a job. It’s a very formal process and students respect what you do for them,” she said.
Anna D’Angela, a graduating student who’s been volunteering all four of her years at Mac, echoed this sentiment.
“Maybe it’s just the type of person I am. I don’t see much of a difference between a job or a volunteer position,” she said.
D’Angela started out as a delegate for the Horizons Conference in her first year, and has been involved with the conference since. This past summer, she was a coordinator and was able to see her Horizons experience come full circle.
“A lot of first years need to figure out where they’re going,” said D’Angela. “Getting involved and volunteering showed me what I want to be as a person.”