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Arina Al-Rhosky is a 2nd year Mechanical Engineering student, who came in for a chat about her experience as a Project Leader for ‘Engineers for International Development Outreach’. She tells us the benefits of cultivating your own project, how it feels to inspire students, and some top tips if you’re interested in Student-Led Projects!

Tell us about your volunteering story!

I volunteer with a Student-Led Project (SLP) called ‘Engineers for International Development Outreach’. Our project gets young students to develop their interest in STEM subjects in a fun and dynamic way by holding workshops in schools across London. Our workshops are focused around the Design Cycle – which engineers usually learn in their first year of uni. You start with a problem, and think of solutions. Then there’s the creative part -they get to design their own rollercoaster, using recycled materials like cardboard and toilet paper rolls. After, they present their models and we give out certificates for the most creative ideas!

How long have you been volunteering with ‘Engineers for International Development’?

Last year I was a volunteer with this project. When the opportunity arose to be a Project Leader, I just decided to go for it!

What good things have come out of being a Project Leader? 

I never had any engineering-related work or volunteering experience before this. I wanted something that could help me develop my STEM knowledge, but also volunteer – this project meant I was killing two birds with one stone!

A lot of volunteers are within the Engineering faculty, so they don’t get to exercise their soft skills (such as communication) on a daily basis. In fact, last year one of my fellow Project Leaders couldn’t really speak well with others and was so nervous, but now he’s the one delivering presentations! 

We have people outside of STEM subjects volunteering – including Mathematics, Education, even Philosophy. The main idea of our project is to spread the love of science across UCL and other subjects.  

Any tips for students who would like to join or even start an SLP?

Go for it! If you want to start one, definitely get a friend or two who are also really passionate about it - it makes all the difference. You really need a core team and have someone supporting you.

How does it feel seeing a change in students’ attitudes towards STEM subjects?

We monitor progress by doing surveys before and after we volunteer with them. We ask questions like “Would you study a science subject at A-Level?” and we’ve received good feedback. The best thing is when  you share your ideas with the students and they’re like “Wow I never would have thought of that!” It’s so lovely to see young students have so much passion about STEM –it warms my heart.

How did you manage to engage students in your workshops?

I recently had a student that wasn’t that interested. However, when it came to the drawing part she was really engaged and enjoyed it! We try to accommodate for everyone – obviously we can’t expect every student to be an aspiring engineer, it’s not realistic, but we hope to get all students collaborating and participating.

Learning science and maths is like painting a fence; it may seem tedious and repetitive but in a few years you can build a cool house! I believe our workshops are giving students a glimpse of the “house” and a ‘this is what I can look forward to’ feeling.

Were there any learning curves when you started as a Project Leader?

You learn a lot, especially regarding admin work; including DBS, safeguarding, risk assessments etc. Usually when you volunteer everything is done for you – but for a Project Leader it’s a lot of your input and have to get everything sorted, handle all the materials you don’t have anyone helping. We do get a lot of support from the SLP Team in the Volunteering Service.

Also, sometimes things don’t always work out as you plan – you could do a call out and have 5 people say yes, but then 3 people will drop out. That happens, but the challenge now is that we’re fully booked and have to turn people down! Some schools would love us to keep on volunteering for a lot of sessions, but full time uni students don’t have that much time to spare, so I need to make sure I’m allocating volunteers correctly.

That’s a great indication of how well your project is run – and the need for projects like yours.

For me to reach this point in my life, I needed to have a lot of support, after all, who would I be without that? I would love to give that back to others and support their interests by volunteering.

If Arina’s story has got you feeling inspired to volunteer with her project, check it out here! For Student Led Projects - check out the SLP directory for plenty more! 

We also have similar opportunities with external organisations on our general directory, which you can browse here.