Rachel Wylie has just finished her BA in Geography at the University of Leeds. Here she explains how her involvement in volunteering throughout university not only helped her discover her passion, but also helped her land a job after graduation.
Volunteering has opened so many doors for me through my time at university, and has led me directly into an incredible job as a women’s outreach worker; here is how it happened.
I got involved in fundraising during my second year of university when a friend decided to start her own charity group for women in the criminal justice system. This was totally out of the blue but she asked me to get involved and so I found some time alongside my studies. Together we founded and ran an upcycling project with female offenders called WISE: Women In Sustainable Enterprise. We found a probation centre called the Together Women Project which was willing to let us try out our ideas with their service users, even though we had no experience in this before.
Volunteering to co-run WISE revealed the skills I possessed which I never really used in my degree. As a Physical Geography student the extent of my creativity was drawing maps! Problem solving meant working out which bug was which in a lab and organisation amounted to getting my essays in on time… the exact same skills as everyone else on my course. Volunteering gave me the opportunity to really get creative in designing upcycling projects and solve problems that mattered, like how to build a woman’s confidence when she couldn’t bare to speak out loud. In my third year I took WISE on alone as project leader working to change the lives of over 50 vulnerable women in a year.
It really is true that it’s not what you know, but who you know that will get you far in life. Throughout two years of volunteering I was able to make good friendships with the staff at Together Women and many more organisations, even ITV staff. I was able to demonstrate my skills and passion to them without any application forms or interviews, I now see this as my opportunity to showcase myself to someone I wanted as a future employer. Volunteering really offers you the chance to show something that would otherwise take hours of careful writing to demonstrate in an application. The friendships I had built, and the commitment I had shown, was really rewarded when I was offered a job as an Outreach Key Worker with Together Women after graduation. My job is to create and run groups like WISE to help women from all backgrounds to create a better future. I can’t think of anything more rewarding, or anything that is further from the only career idea when I came to university (being a weather girl). Volunteering helped me to find my real passion, and has led me directly into a career to live out this passion. It is so important to stand out from the crowd, get your name into the industries you want to work in, and get to know the skills you really have whist your at university. It is the perfect time to discover what you are really capable of.
If you want to find out more about volunteering whilst at university, check out volunteering.leeds.ac.uk where you will find lots of opportunities, information, events and case studies about volunteering. You can also follow @LeedsVolunteer on Twitter for the latest information and opportunities.
See our website for more information about working in the charity sector