New Technology to Scale-up Student Volunteering at the Institute of Technology Tallaght
National Launch of StudentVolunteer.ie
Every year in Ireland thousands of students from our universities and institutes of technology carry out over 100,000 hours of volunteering. IT Tallaght and nine third level colleges have now joined forces to develop studentvolunteer.ie - a brand new online resource which matches students’ interests with volunteering opportunities. The portal is the first of its kind globally and aims to enhance students’ awareness of their role and responsibility in solving challenges such as homelessness, social exclusion and our ageing population.
“When volunteering, you get the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people, give back to your community and have fun! Volunteering on Christmas Day in Tallaght Adventure World was an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I met so many people who not only shared their life stories with me but also their Christmas Day.” Suzanne Brennan, student, Institute of Technology Tallaght
Potential users include up to 100,847 (HEA 2015) students across all higher education institutions and up to 8,000 registered Civil Society Organisations. For charities such as Barnardos, Habitat for Humanity, TeenLine and Special Olympics Ireland, student volunteering is a vital component of their ongoing work:
“With over 3,000 registered volunteers under 25 years old, Special Olympics Ireland depend on the student volunteers among our younger supporters to assist with our fundraising activities and sustain our programmes through working in our clubs, helping at events and participating in committees at local and regional level”. Claire O'Connor, Volunteer Services Manager, Special Olympics Ireland
Shortlisted for the 2016 THINKTECH awards, studentvolunteer.ie has been developed under the umbrella of the Campus Engage Network based at the Irish Universities Association. There are currently 10 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) invested in the portal: UCD, NUI Galway, IT Tralee, UL, MU, Trinity, IT Tallaght, DCU, UCC and DIT. The online system is open to ALL Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), private colleges, VECs, etc.
Students at IT Tallaght can browse and apply for volunteering opportunities nationally or internationally; manage their profile and volunteering activity online; track volunteering hours; gain recognition and apply for volunteering awards.
The civic role and responsibility of colleges and their graduates is becoming a central issue in the global education discussion, with increasing pressure on institutions to demonstrate how higher education is adding value to society.
“By effectively using technology to make volunteering easier, Campus Engage is helping universities and institutes of technology to scale up this socially impactful enterprise.” Kate Morris, National Coordinator, Campus Engage, Irish Universities Association.
The value of volunteering is recognised by the United Nations who have designated December 5th as International Volunteer Day (IVD).
Volunteering has numerous benefits for students and for society. Ireland’s new National Skills Strategy 2025 focuses on graduate attributes such as high level cognitive, leadership, entrepreneurial, analytical and interpersonal skills. Volunteering is an excellent outlet for students to test, refine and put these skills into action. These skills are very much valued by employers:
"In an increasingly competitive employment market, when I review CV’s the selflessness of a volunteer can stand out like a beacon in a sea of self-interest. The functional expertise that a volunteer can learn in an organisation, offers a head start compared to others who start at the beginning when entering permanent employment for the first time.” Billy Norman, Customer Account Manager in Unilever
“Now that I’m working, the skills learnt as a volunteer are even more applicable to my work. My ability to listen to the needs of my clients and advise on solutions is what determines our success. On any given day, I meet people on sites, offices, even socially where they take my degree qualification as read but my ability to listen to what they want while less obvious, is just as important.” Andrew Halpin, Alumni, Institute of Technology Tallaght
Evidence shows that getting out and volunteering can improve individual mental health and well-being. Volunteering is also an excellent pathway for international students in Ireland to integrate into their communities and make new friends. Higher education institutions across the country are battling student retention. Getting involved in extracurricular activity on and off campus is proven to keep students in college. International volunteering cultivates core graduate attributes such as cultural awareness, languages and increased understanding of global social responsibility.
“Here in the Institute of Technology Tallaght, Studentvolunteer.ie has greatly facilitated our student and staff volunteers in engaging with volunteering opportunities in their community. It allows CSOs to interact with our institution and is a welcome addition to the national volunteering landscape by making volunteering accessible to all.” Angela Feeney, Head of Humanities, Institute of Technology Tallaght
Higher education institutions are now acknowledging students’ volunteering achievements on their academic transcripts or diploma supplements. Participating colleges are beginning to use studentvolunteer.ie to track their students’ volunteer hours so they can recognise their efforts at the end of the college year in Awards ceremonies.