During Lent Term we ran the first ever LSE Community Engagement Programme, where 49 fantastic student volunteers completed a consultancy piece for 7 different charities. Since completing the programme, we’ve been catching up with students to understand their experiences! Today we caught up with Madison Luick (MSc in Health and International Development, 2021) who reflected on how the programme helped them to learn outside of the classroom.
This Lent Term was the first year the Community Engagement Programme (CEP) was run by the Volunteer Centre at the LSE (London School of Economics). The CEP offered a much-needed opportunity to engage with organisations in London, to build stronger ties to my LSE community, and to develop critical competencies in project organisation and management.
By December 2020, I knew little about London or the community around me. I was eager to find an opportunity to get more involved and build new skills outside of the academic environment, but I was having difficulty finding available opportunities that would allow me to get involved in the community as I wanted. My academic mentor advised me to consider the Volunteer Centre and the opportunities available there, and I am so glad I did. Through the CEP, I was able to connect with a local London organisation and apply some of the skills and knowledge I had from my academic research and study to the real world. Some of this sense connection to London was due to the local nature of the organisation I was assigned to, however, even those organisations with a global focus had a local presence, offering a deeper understanding of the community work being done by London organisations.
The CEP ran from January to March, concluding with a final event where every volunteer consultancy group presented the outcome of their work. As volunteer consultants, we were placed in groups and assigned to an organisation to help with organisational improvements. One of the strengths of the CEP was that it spanned across the LSE departments. My team was comprised of two other graduate students like myself and four undergraduate students. This was the first time I had interacted with undergraduate students at the LSE, and I also did not have many modules with students outside of my degree or department. The CEP provided an exceptional opportunity to connect with the wider LSE community and work in an interdisciplinary team. In order to be placed in our teams, we completed a survey on our preferences and research interests. However, even though we all had an interest in our project and organisation, the diverse academic backgrounds and varied personal and professional experiences helped make the CEP a strong learning opportunity. Not only did we learn from the consultancy tasks we had to complete, but also from one another, as we were able to share unique insights into the work.
There were many positives from the CEP, but this does not mean that completing our tasks was without its challenges. Spanning across Lent Term, our group had to figure out how to coordinate with our varied schedules, and since we all came from different academic programmes, all our schedules were different. Additionally, sometimes project plans can change, and alternations need to be made for the project to continue to go forward. Our group experienced this and had to become highly flexible and adaptable to achieve our project goals. These challenges posed real-world problems in coordination and project management, and the strong organisational skills our group developed to overcome these challenges will be applicable in the future. Thus, while at the time the challenges we faced were frustrating, they provided one of the essential benefits of the CEP by allowing us to develop real-world consultancy skills and experience.
The challenges and successes of the CEP helped develop new skills, gain real-world consultancy experience, and build connections to the LSE and London community. The CEP was a formative aspect of my experiences at LSE and something that helped add greater meaning to what I was studying.