Celebrating Volunteers’ Week 2023: Gowri Shankar (MSc 2012)

For Volunteers’ Week 2023, we’re celebrating our incredible Bristol Volunteers who give their experience, advice and time to support our students and alumni community.

Gowri Shankar Sivabala (MSc 2012) is the founder of SpaceNXT Labs, an innovation start-up specialising in industrial design and technology, and is a mentor for entrepreneurial start-ups around the world. Based in Sri Lanka, he studied an MSc in Integrated Aerospace Systems Design at Bristol and now supports current students through the online platform Bristol Connects. We hear from Gowri Shankar about his experience as a volunteer.

What inspired you to sign up as a volunteer at the University of Bristol?
I wanted to give back to my university, and volunteering was one way that I could contribute. The start-up scene was very different when I started out, and while there was always a good network around me at Bristol, I never had a mentor – it was difficult to know who to approach for advice and how. I want to make sure it’s different for the upcoming generation.

I’ve been involved in the Bristol Connects platform since it started. It’s a great way to connect alumni with students, and it allows me to support entrepreneurs or offer help with CVs. A student has already reached out to me via Bristol Connects, and I was able to help them work on their CV. I’m really looking forward to engaging with more students and alumni in the future.

What other University of Bristol activities have you been involved in as an alumnus?
I take every opportunity to get involved with alumni events. I’m not able to take part in activities in Bristol, but I’ve been to most of the meetups organised in India. When I moved to Sri Lanka, I knew there were some Bristol alumni there and wanted to tap into that network. I approached the alumni committee and asked if it was possible to organise a virtual meet-up, and in February this year we brought together alumni in Sri Lanka and India in an online networking event.

You never know what kind of opportunities might arise from connecting with different people, whether that’s virtually or at a physical event. You might make an interesting new professional connection in the business or start-up world, or even just make a new friend.

What advice would you give to someone who’s considering changing their career?
Some might describe my career journey as somewhat eccentric. Since completing my master’s degree, I’ve worked in photography, social service, co-founded South India’s first air sports company, and eventually returned to the field of engineering/aerospace and set up SpaceNXT Labs.

I might be on the optimistic side when it comes to changing careers, but I’d say that if someone feels they have a calling for a different field, they should try it out. I’ve had 31 different kinds of roles and professions. The experience I gained through these roles helps me in my current position. Although the company I’ve founded is mostly around industrial design, there are so many aspects of the business in which I can apply my skills and experience, including product photo shoots and social media marketing.

What would you say to someone who’s thinking about volunteering for the university?
Being part of the Bristol alumni network makes me feel so proud, and it’s important to me to give back to my University. By volunteering, you can help students increase their employability, which is so rewarding. It’s also mutually beneficial, and you never know what opportunities might arise from networking. I’m involved with the Industrial Liaison Office at the University, which supports students in finding placements or projects in industry. I’m currently working with four Bristol computer science students on a project for SpaceNXT – the students gain valuable experience, and my company also benefits from their contribution.

Engaging with the alumni community is also extremely nostalgic for me. Whenever I interact with other Bristol alumni, it takes me right back to a time where I got to experiment and learn a lot, and that’s a great feeling.

To find out more about Bristol Connects click here. You can hear from other Bristol Volunteers here

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