Pioneering Volunteering

“I’ve worked on the UL President’s Volunteer Awards with the Student Affairs Division for nearly six years and have seen a significant 40,000 student volunteer hours recorded in that time and over 600 UL students receiving their PVAs from President Don Barry. The Community Liaison Officer post at UL has created over 90 volunteer opportunities on campus in collaboration with UL staff, departments and services and over 600 off campus in collaboration with external community organisations in Limerick, nationally and overseas. I think this gives some indication of the demand that is there for student volunteers within HEIs and external local, national and international organisations. Studentvolunteer.ie will be launched in the University of Limerick in 2016 to mark the beginning of a new and exciting development chapter in Higher Education student volunteering in Ireland and I’m proud to say that UL set the blueprint for what will now be a national asset for HEIs as well as charitable organisations in Ireland and beyond.

Studentvolunteer.ie is a new bespoke higher education student volunteering management system, database and website. It is designed to connect higher education student volunteers across Ireland with local, national and international charitable  organisations/opportunities, and campaigns. This unique cost-effective online volunteer infrastructure is available to all HEIs for the purpose of promoting civic engagement activities through volunteering. There are now eight partner institutions signed up to studentvolunteer.ie; DCU, NUIG, IT Tralee, IT Tallaght, TCD, UCC, UCD and UL, with two more preparing to come on board. The population of students with access to studentvolunteer.ie currently stands at over 100,000.  This is a significant intellectual human resource for HEIs and our wider community partners to tap into. Given the success of the President’s Volunteer Awards at UL I was selected to spearhead this national initiative with my colleagues Joanne Ozarowska in DCU and Lorraine Tansy from NUIG. The project was coordinated and partly funded by Campus Engage and the Irish Universities Association.

Prior to the development of studentvolunteer.ie there was no HE infrastructure to support student/community voluntary activity and/or capture this activity across the sector. UL was ahead of the game in this respect.  In 2010 the President of the University of Limerick, Don Barry launched the President’s Volunteer Award (PVA) in order to officially recognise and award the work students were doing outside their academic studies. The University of Limerick is one of the first HEIs to have an on-line system supporting and promoting student/community engagement through volunteering. UL is also the first and only HEI to structure student volunteering so that the significant contribution student volunteers make to our internal and external communities, the principle role it plays in their development and valuable resource we have in HEIs can be recognised and acknowledged on the student’s transcript.  The new studentvolunteer.ie is designed to further this development across the sector by making it easy for students to log their volunteer hours and complete their reflective portfolios. 

One of the most significant issues that drove and influenced studentvolunteer.ie was the growing and obvious interest in volunteering not only in UL but in other third-level institutions and the lack of any significant information on this popular student activity.  In 2012, under the guidance, and with the voluntary support and direction of Annette McElligott, Department of Computer Science and Information Systems, a blue-print for an on-line student volunteer system with the whistles and bells not available on www.ulpva.ie was mapped out. This work was the foundation on which studentvolunteer.ie. advanced. We now have a national infrastructure for use by all third-level institutions that will promote student volunteering but eliminate duplication of effort and costs. It will assist greatly in building university/ community partnerships, student volunteering best practice policies and practices, and connecting volunteer organisations to HE students. It will also enable the development of national student volunteer demographics, the experience and impact it has on student volunteers, the communities they serve, HE profiles, and HE award systems."

Leave a comment