'Uni Crew' offers a hand

University Volunteer Centre co-ordinator Sze-En Lau is looking forward to signing up students...
University Volunteer Centre co-ordinator Sze-En Lau is looking forward to signing up students during Orientation Week to take part in community volunteering initiatives. Photo by Brenda Harwood.
The University of Otago will launch its own version of the scarfie army during Orientation Week, inviting students and staff to become part of the ''UniCrew''.

The UniCrew project is an initiative of the recently-established University Volunteer Centre, where co-ordinator Sze-En Lau has been working since September to establish processes to involve students in volunteering.

''I have been working with the OUSA, Volunteering Otago, and community organisations on helping to strengthen the volunteer network in Dunedin,'' Ms Lau said.

During Orientation, which will run from February 17 to 22, the University Volunteer Centre (UVC) will have a presence at the ''tent city'' on campus, where students will be encouraged to sign up.

The two key aspects of the UVC programme would be to establish a UniCrew database of students and staff keen to volunteer, and also to get teams involved in group projects, Ms Lau said.

''The idea behind the UniCrew projects is to get groups of students working in association with community groups on tasks that might take six to eight weeks,'' she said.

''The projects will be inspired and managed by the students themselves, while also being flexible to fit in with students' schedules.''

Employers were increasingly looking for ''well rounded'' employees and volunteering was a valuable way for students to develop their skills and connections, she said.

''It is also a great opportunity for the students to get to know Dunedin as a city and to gain insight into their new community.''

The vision of the UVC was to establish volunteering as an integral part of the university's culture, ''so, when students come to Otago, they know that, at some point, they will be involved in volunteering''.

University of Otago Student Services Division director David Richardson said the UVC's work was in keeping with the university's strategic direction, which aimed to produce graduates with an understanding of altruism and making a meaningful contribution to the community.

''It is not just about coming out [of university] with a degree, it is about who you are as a person,'' Mr Richardson said.

Students were an integral part of the North Dunedin community and having them involved in volunteer projects would also enhance the town-gown relationship, he said.

Volunteering Otago manager Anna Clere welcomed the UVC initiative, saying it would be a ''fantastic'' opportunity for students.

About one-quarter of the 1000 volunteers who came to the centre each year were students, and establishing links with the UVC would be ''mutually beneficial'', Ms Clere said.

''Young people make great volunteers. They have heaps of energy and enthusiasm,'' she said.

Community groups who wish to discuss possible projects for the UniCrew to tackle are welcome to contact Sze-En Lau at the UVC, phone 479-8631, email volunteer@otago.ac.nz, or search for the University Volunteer Centre on Facebook.

- by Brenda Harwood 

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