Giving back through volunteering

(c) David Pratt

Chris Edwards (BA 2015) shared his expertise with students by volunteering as a panellist at an alumni careers event.

I graduated from the University with a degree in Italian and Spanish six years ago, and I now work for the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. In my role, I look at how we can partner with the private sector to support the growth of start-ups across Africa and Asia. These businesses have a huge impact on the low-income groups they serve; they provide critical products and services at affordable prices, from clean energy to safe water, hygienic sanitation, digital healthcare and beyond. We work with them to expand this impact and become financially sustainable.

Last year, I volunteered as a panellist at a careers event for current Bristol students and recent graduates with an interest in the third and public sector. Speaking about career options appealed to me as I know first-hand that there are many different paths that can lead you to the job you want. After I graduated, I worked for a big consumer goods company on a management graduate training programme before transitioning into a public sector role. I can remember how it felt, not knowing what I wanted to do next, and it was rewarding to be able to give some advice that could help others in the same situation.

The students and recent graduates that I met at the event were really enthusiastic and engaged. Some had a clear idea of where they wanted to go with their careers and others were less certain, so I found myself having a wide variety of interesting conversations. It was also great to hear from the other alumni panellists about the experiences which had led them to their current roles.

During the event I got chatting to a recent graduate called Prentice. He reached out to me online some months later to see if there were any secondment opportunities available in my department. It was a very busy time – we were mounting a global response to the pandemic while going through a merger – so having an extra pair of hands was really useful. Prentice had a background in healthcare and was passionate about the work we were doing so he was a good fit for the team. He helped us with some high-profile projects and learnt a lot about drafting government materials and reports. The experience was a very positive one all-round and it was brilliant to see his knowledge developing throughout the placement.

There are lots of different ways that alumni can engage with students and support them, whether that’s by having a conversation about career options over the phone or perhaps going for a coffee. Some students will naturally reach out to connect with alumni but that’s not how everyone operates. Having careers events where alumni can share their experiences makes it possible for students to come along and hopefully be inspired. Even if they just take one key thing away that they decide to explore, helping to spark that interest can make a real difference.

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