Martin Engel, a third year Neuroscience student from Germany is the first ever recipient of a special annual award for the outstanding volunteer of the year with Student Volunteering Cardiff.
I first came to Cardiff in February 2006 on an Open Day and what hit me most was that as a city, everything was so close together. The possibility for students, to study and live so centrally made Cardiff University a very attractive choice right away.
After firmly accepting a place to study Neuroscience at the Universitiesí School of Biosciences, and having enrolled on my course, I went along to the Student Union fresherís fair and discovered Student Volunteering Cardiff (SVC). I joined straight away without any hesitation, after just finishing a job as care staff for special needs children in south London.
There were various projects to choose from but the one which grabbed my attention immediately was a project called the Weekenders. The project offered Ďyoung carersí or the siblings of children with learning difficulties the chance to take time out on trips and activities. In my first year I was a volunteer on this project, later on becoming one of the coordinators. Itís a great project as it enables these children to take one day off a month from all the pressures at home and in school.
We usually take roughly 14 children out who are aged between 9 -15 with 6- 8 other student volunteers. Activities have included swimming, pottery, wall climbing and bowling and the volunteers seem to enjoy it just as much as the children.
Itís a good feeling to experience how you can make such a valuable difference, change and improvement to the lives of those children. Not so long ago I also helped organise the first ever SVC charity fun run, which raised more than £1,200 in sponsorship.
Alongside my commitments of student volunteering, the main reason I came to Cardiff was to study Neuroscience. The structure and contents of the course, together with the very supportive staff members in the School of Biosciences and the Neuroscience department in particular, enlivened and strengthened my interest in this fascinating field. I became heavily involved with the Neuroscience Society; having been president and course representative and with only 12 students in my year and in fact only 60 students on the whole of the degree scheme, there is a great connection between us all.
I am currently on an industrial placement in Copenhagen and Iíve recently received a bursary award for being the outstanding volunteer of the year with Student Volunteering Cardiff. It now means that next year, my final year, I wonít have to worry about getting a part time job to help fund my degree, but instead I can look forward to continuing my work for SVC on my return to Cardiff in September 2009.
Working with the SVC has played such an important part of my life as a student and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the other volunteers and coordinators. Itís great to see how many students do actually get involved and help the local community. My hope for the University is that it will keep and strengthen its bonds with the Cardiff community, at least for another 125 years. Happy 125th Birthday Cardiff University!