Aaron is a Student Hubs alumni, a graduate from the University of Winchester who volunteered as LinkAges Project Coordinator in the 2018-19 academic year and President in 2019-20 for Winchester Hub. In this opinion piece for Student Hubs, he reflects on the impact his experience with Winchester Hub has had on him and his career choices moving forward.
Aaron’s social action journey
I started at the University of Winchester in 2016 with the intention that I was going to make an impact. What I hadn’t prepared for was what that impact would look like. I tried my hand first at leading a society which then evolved itself into student politics, all the while working part-time with young people in schools and in further education. These were my attempts to discern my future ambitions. It wasn’t until I met the then Winchester Hub Manager (and soon-to-be Student Hubs CEO), Sim Dhanjal, at a Careers Fair that I would find a social action journey suited to my passion of working in diverse networks and personal development.
My Winchester Hub experience
It was over a Linkages Tea Party during Student Volunteering Week in 2018 that I was persuaded to explore student leadership in a new light to what I had seen before. For the 2018-19 academic year I was appointed as LinkAges Project Coordinator, a committee role responsible for leading student volunteers into intergenerational activities and combating social isolation across Winchester. As someone who is not a fan of feeling isolated myself, I thought that this role would be perfect for me as I could readily connect with the social issue at hand whilst learning how to tackle it head on. Knowing that my work would give back to the community at the same time, fuelled the enjoyment I gain from working with new people. It’s one of the reasons I identify so heavily with the Student Hubs’ Theory of Change. Reflecting back on this motivation, I now realise that being able to do this within an organisational framework added layers upon my imposed warmth for the role that pushed me to be a more effective and diverse leader.
I had been on committees many times before joining Winchester Hub but within this role I felt like I could take ownership of my work. This was down to the support I received from my fellow committee members as well as the staff team. I think back to those committee meetings or my one-to-one catch ups with Lydia Green, who was Winchester Hub Programmes Manager, about how I could be emboldened to pursue my own agenda. Recruitment for the LinkAges project that year proved to be successful because when I requested that I run an information stall, asked for communication material to be made or that I focused on target groups, I was told that my only limitation would be if I did not ask for help.
The familial team dynamic I had come to yearn for after leaving my museum volunteering family behind in Oxford showed its colours in that first semester when we all came together for one another. This concept was not alien to me but what I did take on board was how we all wanted to see each other thrive as individuals as much as we were determined to stay close as a team committee. It was as simple as having helping hands at my information stall or a suggestion for a new direction at a committee meeting. In this environment, I learned the value of asking for help: how others’ strengths could become your own and how your own strengths could become something new.
This experience allowed me to grow closer to the social issues at hand and to the role of the volunteer. For example, I became invested in introducing social connectivity within the volunteer role. One reason being my belief in the value of social activity as a positive form of motivation but also the importance of recognising that even when helping others, we should still take time to reach out when we needed support ourselves. This style of leadership would define my coming co-presidency of the student committee but would also be something I wanted to diversify into a form of leadership I could be proud of.
I refer to how the rare opportunity of working in a partnership to lead gave me the confidence and communication skills needed to feel like I had achieved something as Winchester Hub Co-President in the 2019-20 year. My fellow Co-President, Alice, and I both approached the role with the same enthusiasm and the same motivations. Yet we approached the role as different people who grew into a working relationship of two very supportive equals. Initially, I felt my ambition may have outweighed the confidence I had to work with others who worked differently to myself. It was something I felt even more difficult to communicate when before as I had been so used to trying to please all opinions rather than being assertive in the important aspects of the task at hand. With the support of the Winchester Hub staff team however, Alice and I were encouraged to meet regularly and in full understanding of our different yet complementary leadership styles. Through this we were able to plan together and shape that semester’s recruitment and fundraising initiatives into something that would lay the successes for the whole academic year. We could not have achieved this without our fellow student committee members, who like us, were given the agency to make decisions themselves.
In my last semester I felt it was about time to think long term on how I could take my experience over the last two years at Winchester Hub into a future where I could continue to support young changemakers. I enrolled on the Social Innovation Programme (SIP) at the start of this year as I saw the training sessions offered as part of the programme to be an enriching component of any application to work with data or professional project management. For me, this meant going beyond the research skills acquired on my course to pursue an application of knowledge and collaborative thinking to a professional standard of problem-solving. It’s something that student leadership prepares you for in the greatest way possible with how responsive and communicative you have to be when supporting other students to make change.
It’s those student volunteers who I feel make student leadership so impactful and something I was reminded of in conversation with a fellow committee member earlier this year. The reminder spoke to my time away from my own hands-on volunteering experience, something I wanted to return to if it hadn’t been for a premature end to the semester due to Covid-19. What I do know however is that I will most certainly seek to return to working with young volunteers if I can. Those student volunteers at Winchester Hub embodied the sustainable dedication to social activism which still continues to drive my own motivations. I am passionate about learning, in leadership, about social issues and in social innovation but above all, the student volunteers I have had the pleasure to work with, in projects and on committees have taught me the most.
Investing in student change
It is with this that I praise the consistently impactful work of the 2018-19 and 2019-20 student committees I served on and to Alice who, over the two years, helped me become a better leader and who has become one of my most supportive friends. I also say a massive thank you to the Winchester Hub staff team, Daniel, Lydia, Sim, Catherine, Helen, Sorcha and Liz; a small list of Student Hubs staff who made a humongous impression upon the support given to both student volunteers and student coordinators, as well as facilitating the space for me to grow professionally and personally. If their hard work doesn’t show why we should invest in student change then I don’t know what will.
Thank you to Aaron for his kind words, his dedication to Student Hubs’ vision and mission, and continued impact as a Hub alumni! If you are a Hub alumni and want to contribute an opinion piece to the Student Hubs blog, get in touch with Fiona Walsh, Sales Director at email@example.com.