To mark volunteers week (1-7 June), the University of Exeter is delighted to announce that since 2012 Exeter alumni have donated over 75,000 hours to the ‘Making the Exceptional Happen’ Campaign.
The Campaign, Exeter’s most ambitious to-date, originally aimed to achieve 60,000 volunteering hours by 2020, however the commitment and generosity of the alumni community meant that was reached nearly two years early in February 2018. A new target of 90,000 hours has now been set following the milestone achievement.
75,000 hours equates to a graduate volunteering for Exeter every hour of every day since the Campaign began. It means tens of thousands of students have benefitted from careers talks, more than 2,000 have received mentoring partnerships lasting between 6 and 12 months, and another 1,500+ student career questions have been answered by email. It also includes 2,500 working days of strategic advice given to University staff.
Volunteers at the University of Exeter help to enhance the student experience and improve career prospects, bring their industry expertise and insights to the curriculum, support the alumni community, and provide valuable strategic advice and guidance to University staff.
Many Exeter alumni choose to volunteer by taking part in the University’s Career Mentor Scheme. The scheme, that turned 10 years old this year, brings students together with experienced professionals who provide invaluable insight and advice on their career for up to 6 months.
Peter Baldwin (History, 1991) is a Partner at Macfarlanes law firm. Over the past eight years he has mentored numerous students, providing careers advice and industry insights. His first mentee was Natasha Bellinger (Law, 2011) who is now a Barrister at Magdalen Chambers. A few years later Natasha volunteered to become a mentor herself and is now sharing her own experience. Her first mentee was Lucy Stewardson (English, 2017) who is now an Editorial Assistant at Palladian Publications and hopes to work in book publishing.
Peter says: “I was conscious of the challenge of rising inequality and the massive intergenerational unfairness that was developing. My generation benefited from free access to Higher Education and a bit of an economic boom, post-recession. I was lucky to enter the profession at the time I did. There was a huge amount of growth, great potential to develop and to get on and succeed. The situation now is not so simple.
“I wanted to support the next generation in some way so when Exeter approached me about being a mentor I was keen to get involved. The scheme encourages students from different backgrounds to get into industries like law. Lots of students don’t have family members or any connections working in law, so they don’t have anyone to talk to about careers or to give them advice. I effectively take on that role for a short time, we’re able to talk about different jobs, the consequences of making different decisions and taking different career paths.
“I’ve loved doing it! Each person is different, some people are really ready to think about the future while others are at the very early stages of deciding what to do. I have mentored students from all backgrounds, UK and international, male and female. They reflect the diversity of students, the wide variety of talented and able young people at Exeter.
“The time I give has never felt a burden. In fact I think I have got far more out of the experience than I have put into it.
“I’ve encouraged peers to become mentors. Exeter is an institution that has given a great deal to us and the scheme is a great way to give back and to be part of future success. It doesn’t take a huge amount of time really and you can make a massive difference.”
Natasha, who recently received the Debbie Hill Award for exceptional support of students’ at Exeter’s Alumni Volunteer Awards, says: “I was the first person in my family to go to university and didn’t know a lawyer or anyone else working in the law profession. I applied to the mentor scheme because I thought it would be a good way of having someone to talk to when I didn’t have anyone else.
“It was such a positive experience. It gave me a huge amount of confidence and was really inspiring. Peter gave me really honest feedback and in such a constructive way. He was a great listener and was able to give me really specific advice based on the challenges I was facing. He didn’t just tell me what to do, he asked me questions and helped me to understand what I needed to do to get where I wanted.
“The experience 100% helped me in my career. He looked at my applications and supported with interviews. It gave me an insight I wouldn’t otherwise have got and it definitely helped to give me the edge in a very competitive environment.
“I volunteered as a mentor because the scheme had such a positive impact on me and I wanted someone else to have the same opportunity. I find it really rewarding being a mentor and it makes me remember why I got into the profession in the first place.
“I would absolutely recommend it to anyone!”
Lucy says: “I knew law was super difficult to get into and I thought it would be useful to seek out some advice. I’d tried the eXepert scheme before but wanted something more in depth where I felt I could ask all the questions I wanted to without becoming annoying!
“The experience was really useful. Natasha was completely lovely and open with her time, she invited me to various events where I could also learn from others in different areas of the law. I could tell that she genuinely wanted to help and that was such a comfort.
“Having a mentor did help me professionally with the law - I got a few work experience placements and a vacation scheme plus lots of interviews with Natasha’s help. Ultimately I decided that the industry wasn’t for me, but the experience with Natasha definitely gave me the confidence to start from the very beginning with a different career - publishing.
“I would definitely recommend the scheme. Even just being able to see that someone who started at Exeter has been able to get where you want to go is inspiring and helped my confidence no end.”
Emma McFadyen, Head of Alumni Relations and Volunteering at the University of Exeter, said: “Gifts come in many shapes and sizes but they all make a tremendous difference to our work. Our alumni volunteers provide invaluable support to our students, helping them to achieve their career goals and supporting their personal development. We are incredibly grateful to each and every person who has given their time.”