Students as agents for Change!

UoM Sustainability Volunteering and Internship Programs: Fostering staff and student collaboration and creating agents for change.

The University of Melbourne (UoM) aspires to be a leader in sustainability. It strongly believes in the need to equip its students with the right knowledge, experience and skills to make a positive impact in the world, while studying and upon graduation. The Sustainability Team saw a wonderful opportunity to support the learning and teaching needs of its students and assist them to develop practical experience and skills dealing with real-world campus-based problems. Since 2019 the team have developed and launched two new student-focused programs.

  1. Student Sustainability Volunteering Program (2019)
  2. Student Sustainability Internship Program (2020)

The aim is to raise awareness of sustainability, encourage participation and create a community of change-makers. The University has a Sustainability Framework, with targets in its Sustainability Plan 2017 -2020 to increase engagement and support the learning attributes of its students. Key programs such as these, provide a platform to foster positive environmental outcomes and support cultural change within its community. Our students are the leaders of tomorrow and the time to start nurturing them to make change is now!

>  The initiative

The UoM Sustainability Team, Campus Management runs two high profile programs for students to get involved with sustainability.

  1. A large student volunteering program, and
  2. A student internship program

For both programs, students of any discipline can get involved with sustainability directly and make meaningful change. Both programs are instrumental in supporting student engagement and empower individuals to be get involved in sustainability and in the University community more broadly. Each opportunity is designed to give students a meaningful experience in a professional setting, while ensuring their contributions to sustainability projects have a positive, tangible impact on university operations. Both of these programs were created because staff and students wanted opportunities to get involved with sustainability and wanted to learn about how they can make a change.

Student Volunteering Program

The student volunteering program benefits both the student body and the University community by providing students with the opportunity to develop skills and be part of real-life sustainability projects on campus. The largest volunteer program is within Green Impact as students can be a Project Assistant and/or Student Auditor. In 2017, UoM was the first institution in Australasia to pilot Green Impact and provided 17 Project Assistants and 20 Student Auditors with the opportunity to help staff implement sustainability-based actions in their workspace. This was the first formal staff-student collaboration opportunity. In 2018, the interest from students grew and the Sustainability Team received over 160 expressions of interest to volunteer which was, at that time, the biggest number any institution world-wide, taking part in GI had received. 92 students participated in 2018 as Project Assistances and a further 39 as Student Auditors. From this growing rate of interest and through the analysis of community feedback (via direct email, through forums, L&T channels and student groups), the team determined that there was a genuine and much needed opportunity to engage with a large number of students who wanted to get involved with sustainability on-campus in some capacity. So, in 2019, the Sustainability team implemented a broader Student Volunteering Program.  There were a range of opportunities for students to get involved and as the program has matured, the number and scope of those opportunities have increased as outlined in the table below. Due to the uptake in volunteer opportunities, The Sustainability Team also recruited a part-time Student Volunteer Officer in 2019, who was a previous volunteer in 2018. Their role was to organise the logistics of each opportunity, recruit and train student volunteers and organise end-of-year celebrations for all students involved. Over the past two and a half years of running this program we have engaged with over 286 students directly and created a database of over 800 students. We communicate with students via a Facebook group, Facebook, Instagram and a volunteer newsletter listing the current opportunities.

Year Opportunity Project # of people involved
2017 GI Project Assistant Assisted Green Impact teams with completing sustainability actions 17
GI Student Auditor Audited Green Impact actions from staff teams, verifying the completed actions 20
2018 GI Project Assistant Assisted Green Impact teams with completing sustainability actions 92
GI Student Auditor Audited Green Impact actions from staff teams, verifying the completed actions 40
2019 Biodiversity and Sustainability Tour guides Guided staff and students on regular tours around campus which showcased features that make Parkville a sustainable campus 10
Choose to Reuse Ambassadors Volunteers encouraged staff and students to use the Choose to Reuse Plate Program, and educated people about correct waste, recycling and organics disposal 22
Wash Club at the Farmers Market Volunteers washed reusable cutlery and crockery at the farmers’ market so staff and students could enjoy waste-free lunches 50
GI Project Assistants Assisted Green Impact teams with completing sustainability actions 60
GI Student Auditors Audited Green Impact actions from staff teams, verifying the completed actions 30
Student Surveyors Surveyed staff and students to get their feedback on sustainability-related issues 7
Poster Volunteers Volunteers distributed sustainability-themed posters on campus 6
2020 Choose to Reuse Ambassadors Volunteers encouraged staff and students to use the Choose to Reuse Plate Program, and educated people about correct waste, recycling and organics disposal 21
Waste Warriors Helped people to choose the right bin when disposing of waste, educating them 13
GI Project Assistant Assisted Green Impact teams with completing sustainability actions 26
GI Student Auditor Audited Green Impact actions from staff teams, verifying the completed actions 17
2021 Choose to Reuse Ambassadors Volunteers encouraged staff and students to use the Choose to Reuse Plate Program, and educated people about correct waste, recycling and organics disposal 8
Bin Auditors Recorded the types of bins on campus and the state of their signage 20
GI Project Assistant Assisted Green Impact teams with completing sustainability actions 38
GI Student Auditor Audited Green Impact actions from staff teams, verifying the completed actions NA

Since the volunteer program started, the biggest piece of feedback received from student volunteers was that they wanted to work on bigger projects and gain more hands-on experience. Taking this feedback on board, the Sustainability Team set out to develop a formal Student Internship Program.

Student Internship Program

The pilot program launched in semester 2 2020, commencing with four internship positions: three biodiversity and one waste minimisation intern.  Roles were unpaid and must be completed as part of direct learning through a University of Melbourne internship subject. These internships were well received by students and the staff faculties looking for placements for students (of which there are never enough). Following on from the initial feedback, the program was formalised and officially launched for a summer intake over 2020/2021. During this period 7 interns were onboarded and welcomed to the team as outlined in the table below. The internship opportunities with the Sustainability Team are designed to give students a meaningful experience in a professional setting, while ensuring their contributions to sustainability projects have a positive, tangible impact on University operations.

Year Internship Project # of people involved
2020

Sem 2

Biodiversity Collecting biodiversity baseline data 3
Waste Minimisation Researching organic solutions on campus 1
2021

Summer

Biodiversity Collecting biodiversity baseline data 2
Green Impact Analysis of the 2020 program 1
Waste Minimisation Setting up the sub pods in the system garden & website design 1
Sustainable Events Researched the impacts of events 1
Transport Reviewed community feedback regarding transport 1
Communications Created posters for our toilet door poster campaign 1
2021

Sem 1

Waste Minimisation Carried out a Parkville wide bin audit 1
Engagement Conducted an analysis of the Choose to Reuse Plate program 1
Communications Project managed 4 x mural Union House 1
Energy Investigated the impact of COVID on University energy consumption 1
2021

Sem 2

Green Impact Communications Market research on communications and recruitment for GI 1
Waste Minimisation Create a visual waste story board display & review our waste streams 1
Sustainability Baseline Data To collect sustainability baseline data of all across our campuses 1
Biodiversity Engagement To develop an action plan on engagement around biodiversity 1
Water To optimise and map the UoM’s water infrastructure 1

The Sustainability Team now offers multiple internship opportunities per semester focusing on projects that cover waste, transport, biodiversity, water, engagement and communication-related issues and projects. This program upholds University values by supporting learning outcomes, bringing diversity and more students’ perspectives to operational outcomes and allows for a two-way flow of information. Since its start in Semester 2 2020 and Semester 1 2021, 15 students from a diverse range of courses have taken part including the Bachelor of Science, Master of Environment, Master of Environmental Science, Master of Landscape Architecture, Master of Spatial Engineering, Master of Marketing Communications and Master of Management (Marketing) completed an internship. All students received course credit for their contributions through a university-endorsed subject. It also allows the University to hear students’ feedback and ideas in a collaborative setting. All interns must integrate in the team as part of the experience. From this program 4 interns have been offered full time roles in other organisations and a further 5 interns have been hired as casuals within the Sustainability Team. Following the success of this program, it now has plans to be rolled out across Campus Management and was highly received by all staff, faculties and opened up more opportunities on campus for students.

>  Environmental and social benefits

There are multiple benefits of both the student volunteering program and the student internship program that relate to operational outcomes, student learning outcomes, raising awareness of sustainability, supporting students to gain professional work experience and provide the opportunity for students to put learnt theory into practice as part of real-world problems. The students want this opportunity and continue to seek us out to gain it. For the student sustainability volunteer program, all volunteer hours count towards the UoM student’s Leaders in Communities Award which is an award that recognises students’ volunteering efforts and their achievements. Students need to complete 40 volunteer hours across the duration of their studies to reach the awards which is then a part of their university transcript. Students also receive a reference for their resume and gain skills in things such as promotion, data capture, education and engagement. As volunteering can be as little as one occasion or over many months, it not only offers vital benefits to the individual but also to the community. Students have to gain hours both within and outside of the University. For the internship program, their hours count towards the students’ course credit. Benefits of the volunteer program are also not limited to the volunteers. The Wash Club diverted over 200 items from landfill each week and helped change unsustainable behaviours of food vendors. Furthermore, student volunteers surveyed the University community and with this information we can shape future initiatives such as reducing plastic water bottle use (which has now been banned in Union House and in the New Student Precinct). Our surveys engaged with 219 people over 4 markets and an additional 150 staff and students participated in the Biodiversity and Sustainability Tours.

Benefits of both programs include:

  • Raise awareness of sustainability so increased knowledge
  • Gives practical experience on campus and develops transferable skills
  • Supports important projects that support students (such as plate wash service),
  • Enables students to influence their own activities and behaviours on campus such as washing plates at the MFM
  • Supports good environmental outcomes i.e., reducing plates and cups in landfill, increasing staff actions through Green Impact

Positive outcomes:

  1. All the students that have volunteered or interned with us have become an advocate for sustainability on campus. Students gained confidence and put learning or passionate into practice. This has been very positive for their mental health, showing them that they can make a difference and have a positive impact on their lives on campus and at home.
  2. The volunteers and student interns were also able to meet other like-minded staff and students on campus and are part of a wider community, fostering relationships that increasing employability

Students have learnt new skills, gained experience and qualifications and in particular learnt more about sustainability topics including waste and biodiversity. This has not only helped them advance their career but also gave them the opportunity to develop new skill.

>  Leadership and engagement

Student Volunteering

Our program has a number of steps involved in the process. We communicate our opportunities to the students via a number of ways, signing them up to our student volunteer database at orientation, sending a volunteer newsletter, posted on our website, social media channels and through communications via faculties. We offer a diverse range of opportunities available to appeal to all interests. In particular with Green Impact, we have received senior level endorsement from the VC and Allan Tait, the Vice-President (Administration & Finance) and Chief Operating Officer. We were also able to adapt most of our opportunities from home.

Internship Program

For our internship program, we have dramatically improved the process by creating a registration form as opposed to CV. We interview the top 4 candidates and we also have created a full induction checklist and process to onboard new interns. All of our internship opportunities are based on targets in the Sustainability Plan.

Getting Feedback

The success of each program is measured via multiple feedback mechanisms. Gathering feedback, completing a participant survey. From the feedback in 2019, we received 5- and 6-star results from participant surveys. Each of the volunteer opportunities provided students the opportunity to network with other volunteers, staff and students across campus. Often working as part of a team, the development of communication and engagement skills in the volunteers was prevalent. Not only were volunteers learning about sustainability initiatives themselves, but they were also educating the wider UoM community. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, friendships are formed whilst volunteering, particularly at the Farmers Market where there are often returning volunteers each week. A testimonial from one of our student volunteers; Rocky Reynaldo that led Sustainability Tours around campus. “As a sustainability tour guide, I led a small group of people to visit different sites around the University where sustainability initiatives are implemented. My favourite part of this role was to see the reaction when the tour participants got fascinated and rather surprised by the cool sustainability initiatives I shared with them, priceless!”

>  Wider societal impact

In 2020, we planned to expand our student volunteer network to raise awareness amongst the student body. Developing new and engaging roles (e.g., student led workshops) with the aim to increase participation in sustainability initiatives. Furthermore, by regularly engaging with students, through communications and events, the team hoped to influence their behaviour on and off campus and increase our capacity to run surveys allowing us to continuously improve our programs and increase student satisfaction. However, due to COVID-19 these plans were halted. Thus, a large focus for 2022 will be to achieve the above desired goals and work with the University Team to embed sustainability into award schemes, increasing sustainability action on campus. Its aim is to be a global leader and lead by example, and the University has a huge reach, influencing many thousands of students on a daily basis with a mission to educate future generations and deliver a world class campus experience. Therefore, both of these programs have the ability to influence the next generation of leaders and create a community of change-makers, whilst also having several environmental benefits that has created a huge positive impact in a relatively short time.

Top 3 learnings
  • Students want to be part of the solution, both across campus and more broadly, we just have to help them develop the practical skills needed to support their studies and succeed.

  • The best way to create an engaged community, that cares about sustainability, is get them involved with practical real-world solutions.

  • All students, regardless of their subject or cultural background are able to get involved with sustainability.

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