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Learning from volunteering

So why volunteer? It is, of course, about making a difference to your community. However, it’s also a great opportunity to learn new skills, improve your wellbeing and meet new people.

We talk to Emily Hencher and Cassandra Gruetzner about how their volunteering experiences helped them with their personal and career development.

Quick takeaways

  • Great way of making a difference to your community.
  • Volunteering can give you skills in organising events, planning, project management, communication, collaboration, community outreach and leadership.
  • Helps with your personal development, confidence and wellbeing.

Getting involved in volunteering

“Wanna talk about boobs?”

It’s an eye-catching question for a serious message raising awareness about how breast cancer can affect young men and women. Emily Hencher has been an energetic force behind the Uni Boob Team Stirling, part of the CoppaFeel! University network founded by Kristin Hallenga.

“When I arrived at Stirling, the Uni Boob Team! had lost momentum. I became President in 2016, begged and borrowed favours and pressganged friends to get involved. I was so determined to spread the message to get people to love their boobs and pecs.”

Cassandra Gruetzner has also made a big impact with her volunteering. She started her volunteering as a module rep in the first year and then became a psychology mentor to new students. “In my third year I became secretary and then President of the Debating Society. I got involved in union meetings and joined the Community Zone Executive Committee which is the umbrella for the university’s groups and volunteer clubs. We approve new societies, help them apply for grants, organise events and oversee funding and grants.”

Both Emily and Cassandra have personal reasons for becoming so involved in volunteering.  For Emily she discovered a lump in her breast when she was sixteen that thankfully proved to be harmless. “I was frightened and I didn’t tell anyone for a year. I was so unaware that young people could get breast cancer and I want to help others who found themselves in a similar situation but often panic and don’t know what to do.”

For Cassandra debating and public speaking was a way of overcoming shyness. “I was so shy as a child. I wanted to overcome it and now I have the confidence to stand-up and talk to a room full of people.”

"I was so unaware that young people could get breast cancer and I want to help others who found themselves in a similar situation but often panic and don’t know what to do.”

Volunteering activities and roles

Cassandra’s role as a module rep “helps on the academic side by making sure the student voice is heard.” Her work on the Community Zone Executive Committee saw her helping societies write their constitutions, organise their applications for funding and their events. “I love helping societies get themselves up and running. If people want to start a society there’s help for them to do it – they only need ten people to start one.”

Her role in advocacy and her public speaking skills took her to the Future European Leaders Association where she presented a policy briefing on sustainability and funding environmentalism to the Czech foreign minister.

For Emily it was more about raising awareness so she and her team found themselves doing community outreach in local schools, in Stirling and on the campus. They helped set up a text service with monthly ‘check your body’ reminders. They also organised dodgeball events to raise funds.

Stirling Uniboob Team spreading the message on breast cancer

The Uni Boob Team Stirling raising awareness of breast cancer in a shopping centre.

Gaining skills from volunteering

Volunteering work can give you all kinds of skills in organising events, planning, project management, communication, collaboration, community outreach and leadership. All these skills are useful for building confidence and for gaining career skills.

“I learnt so much,” said Emily, “but there was also surprising things like learning how to deal with failure or how to delegate and trust people with things that I was emotionally attached to. I worked with the council and government which gave me all kinds of insights into how things work. We also learnt to tailor our messages because sometime we were talking to different cultures and audiences. So you really develop your emotional intelligence in dealing with people and situations.”

Cassandra agrees about how many career development skills you can gain from volunteering and also added that “it’s such a good way of learning people skills. I’ve met and worked with all kinds of people with different interests. You learn how to deal with situations, how to plan, how to be resilient when things go wrong. It makes you stand out that you stand up and do something.”

Cassandra Gruetzner

Cassandra Gruetzner at the Inspirational Women Awards in 2019

The personal benefits

Volunteering also had a positive impact on Emily and Cassandra’s personal and social development. Both spoke about the pride in their work, and a feeling of achievement.

“Volunteering really helped me figure out what I wanted to do,” said Cassandra. “You get a taste for what you’re good at, not what you think you’re good at. I always feel that what you give you get back and it’s nice to be part of something. Plus it’s a great way of making friends.”

Both Cassandra and Emily spoke about the positive impact volunteering has on wellbeing. Research shows that finding purpose or meaning doing such activities as volunteering increases happiness and life satisfaction. For Emily it was an escape from study. “It gives you another focus as well as a different perspective. You find your people and your community.”

"Volunteering really helped me figure out what I wanted to do. You get a taste for what you’re good at, not what you think you’re good at."

Final advice

Cassandra: “Do things to make you proud of your CV.”

Emily: “Be passionate.”

Cassandra is from Germany and studied a combined BA course f Philosophy and Psychology. She was awarded honourable Mention at the Students Union’s Inspirational Women Award 2019. She was also awarded Honourable Mention for the Community Volunteer of the Year at the STAR Awards 2019.

Emily studied (LLB) Law and is finishing an internship with Harper Macleod. She was awarded Community Volunteer of the Year at the STAR Awards 2019. She is President of the Stirling Uni Boob Team and is also a STEER Captain.

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