We had a lovely chat with Kimberley, who is in her third year of Biomedical Engineering studies, and she has been co-leading the SLP Project Impactive. If you want to know what leading a project is like, this is a great read, as Kimberley shares with us her experience, challenges, and some excellent advice!

Can you tell us a little bit about your project?

Project Impactive looks at helping those with disabilities and accessibility issues in everyday life and we create bespoke devices that help them with daily tasks.

Amazing! And how does this work?

We have volunteer engineers and those interested in accessibility come in and meet with clients who propose an issue. The clients we work with are mainly charities that help elderly people or children with learning disabilities. Then, we create a brief and propose a product that our engineers can create in order to help them with the proposed issue, which can be any daily tasks, like being able to push a button or perhaps a learning device that children can use. Mostly things to help mobility and communication.

Tell us about your Project Leader role.

I work with two other co-leads; we coordinate our teams of engineers that work on projects for different charities. We act as a bridge between the clients and the students working on the projects, making sure that they are actively communicating and that things are being done and on both sides in a useful way.

We also try to contact other charities and are always looking for clients with new projects where we are able to help out.

Why did you want to become a Project Leader?

I wanted to be a project leader because I really felt connected to what Project Impactive is all about and what we stand for.

I was an engineer volunteer last year, but unfortunately, we weren't able to complete any projects. I was a bit upset, but also looked forward to seeing actual projects being done and being given out to the client, and seeing how they accepted it. So I stayed on as a Project Leader to make it my goal to actually see some people make use of the products that our engineers work on, and to have some really great projects and experiences come out of this.

What difference do you feel you’ve made by leading your project?

I think I've been able to really advertise and market what Project Impactive does, it was quite small in previous years, it had small teams, whilst this year we had about 30 engineers interested in joining at the beginning. So in the past it's been teams of two or three people and now we've got teams of 7 or 8, which has been great.

I also think that now we actually are able to create and build products, whereas previously, in part due to COVID, it had been more difficult. So it's nice to see some progression in the project.

What impact has volunteering, and leading a project had on you?

I think it's given me some perspective. I'm able to see how much work goes into a volunteering role, and how much it takes not only to be a volunteer but to coordinate volunteers and lead a project. In volunteering we can't demand things from people, it has to come naturally, and they have to want to volunteer their time to do this.

Sometimes this has been quite difficult but then seeing that people truly want to make a difference and are dedicated to a similar cause is really nice.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered? How did you overcome this challenge?

I'd say the biggest challenge is coordinating the engineering teams to make progress on each project. There's a lot of students that do a lot of different courses with very different timetables… they always have a lot going on and it's difficult to make progress with teams that are not able to commit time. So there have been delays in production and sending off proposals, also because we have to wait for external organisations to get back to us.

So it's been quite a long process before we can actually produce prototypes and devices, but I think the best way to work is having teams that dedicate a specific hour or two every single week, those teams have made the most progress the quickest. Also, something that helped was having a smaller team and being realistic about whether these volunteers are able to dedicate this time to complete this project. I’ve also had to join some teams to make sure that there's enough to keep it going and to actually deliver a product to the client.

Tell us something memorable that’s happened to you whilst being a Project Leader?

I remember a specific client that we had this year who we're delivering a product to. I had spoken to them for a long time and they were meant to be a partner with us last year but due to ongoing complications we weren't able to deliver a product. We are now finally making some progress, so we've given them a brief, showed them pictures and they're really excited about having this device. It is meant to be a sensory wall for children, so they're really excited and our volunteers have started building this.

Just having that communication with them where there's actually progress and things are real now, it's really nice to see, and hopefully we'll deliver that product very soon!

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone thinking about being a Project Leader?

The advice I would give is to be motivated about your project and to try and motivate others in a way that's informative, to get people to really listen to your cause.

Finally, I just want to say that being in a team of co-leaders was really nice, we can rely on each other and trust each other to do other jobs so it didn't feel as full on. I can't imagine not working with these guys on it and having to do all of that by myself, so I'm really grateful for having my co-leads.

Want to start your own Student-led Volunteering Project? Find out more and share your ideas with us here!