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Fania Christodoulides is a third year Chemical Engineering student, who has volunteered during the past academic year as a Project Leader for Engineers Without Borders.

What do you do as a volunteer? Describe your typical session.

We normally start the session off with a short, interactive, 5-minute presentation on “What is Engineering?”.We try to break the misconceptions of engineering being limited to things like bridges and automobiles, and we try to show younger students that although bridges and automobiles are still very cool, there are other aspects of engineering. For example, the production of shampoos, soaps and detergents, and even sports shoes (such as football boots and basketball shoes) also entails the use of engineering - even though we don’t normally place these products in the same category as “engineering”.

Then, we briefly introduce ourselves and the types of engineering we do, and start our activity for that day. This activity is one of six different activities which include: DIY Thermometers (where we explain the concept of thermal expansion and thermal equilibrium), Make Your Own Batteries (in which electricity, electron movement and circuits are explained), Egg Drop activity (to discuss terminal velocity and gravity), Natural Compass making (to explain magnets and the North and South pole), a Building Bridges activity (where we talk the students through the design cycle and they are given a ‘budget’ and tasked to choose materials to build the strongest possible bridge), and finally we have a Murder Mystery challenge where students use chromatography, crystallization, and flame test to determine who is the ‘murderer’.

How did you find out about this volunteering?

With a lot of help from the Engineers Without Borders UCL society, I created this volunteering project, as I felt, based on the society’s mission of sustainable development, we needed to contribute more to our local community. I believe that the societal factors of sustainable development which include social cohesion, inclusion and, above all, creating equal opportunities, especially in education, are vital to our global society. Therefore, at Engineers Without Borders Outreach, we aim to promote Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects in the hopes that STEM education becomes attainable to all regardless of gender, race, religion and socio-economic background.

What were your first impressions when you started volunteering?

I immediately loved it. It did feel weird though – you spend all day on your feet while teaching, so you end up with mixed emotions. I felt really tired, but also extremely motivated, and itching to volunteer again.

I also started thinking about how I could get more people involved with volunteering, as I could see how everyone could benefit from volunteering and end up loving it as much as me!

How do you feel about it now?

My feelings haven’t changed. In fact, the more I volunteer, the more I believe in the project, and the more I believe in volunteering with younger students in the community. Ultimately, I hope that this could impact their lives to such an extent that they feel STEM is more accessible to them – regardless of their background.   

What’s the best thing about volunteering?

The most rewarding part about being a volunteer is that by the end of the session, the younger students who you’ve been helping become just as excited and just as motivated as you are about engineering and science. It’s such a wonderful feeling being able to share the subject you are so passionate about with younger students.

And what’s the most challenging thing?

Probably trying to get a bunch of 11-12 year olds to listen to the initial presentation! Definitely capturing young students’ attention, and being able to hold it throughout the session it the most challenging thing. It gets easier over time and with (a lot of) practice!

How has volunteering changed you?

Volunteering has made me a more patient, caring and conscious citizen. I am also happier, as I feel as though I am giving back to the community in which I live in. I believe that I am extremely lucky and privileged to have (and to have had) the opportunities that I do and so with volunteering I aim to give back not only knowledge, but also encouragement and support to younger students.  

As a Project Leader, my time management skills have definitely improved, in addition to my project management skills and leadership abilities being enhanced.

What difference do you feel you’ve made by volunteering?

One of the reasons I started volunteering was because I was the only girl in my 12th grade Chemistry class, and one of the few girls in my Physics class. I really believed this has to do with various societal factors, which in many areas of the world have contributed to minorities within the STEM subjects. For me, volunteering is showing a young student that STEM can be for them if they want it to be, and that they should not steer away from STEM subjects just because others have told them to, or pressured them into not selecting STEM careers. It’s about proving to them that STEM subjects can be fun, engaging and a lot more than just what you read from a textbook in class. At the end of a volunteering session, having engaged with pupils, I believe I’ve made a difference through helping one of them to maybe select another science GCSE, or just through sparking their interest in wanting to learn more – or perhaps even inspiring them to consider a STEM career in the future.  

Has volunteering given you any new perspectives on your academic studies at UCL?

I believe that volunteering has given me so many new skills, such as time management, public speaking, teaching, project management among many others. It’s a different skillset compared to my academic studies, and the two complement each other.

Going to lectures in the mornings, I learn how to be a good engineer, but with the skills I gain volunteering in the afternoon, I think this will give me the opportunity to develop eventually into a great engineer.

Would you recommend the project to anyone else?

Definitely, 100%! As a Project Leader at Engineers Without Borders Outreach, I will always try to work with our volunteers and also focus on their personal development within the project – it’s just as important to myself and the other Project Leaders that our volunteers are gaining as much as they can from the experience of volunteering, in addition to the actual volunteering in and of itself.

If Fania’s experience as a Project Leader has encouraged you to create your own community project, check out our Student-Led Volunteering Programme. All vacancies with our 500+ partner organisations can be browsed on our main Volunteering Directory.