Belfast Telegraph

Voluntary work a positive contribution to our society

University students often get a bad Press but Queen's Volunteering Excellence Awards showed there is another side, says Aidan Hughes

This week almost 5,000 Queen's students will walk across the stage of the Whitla Hall to collect their well-earned degrees.

While undoubtedly they have all worked extremely hard to achieve their success, their time at Queen's has also seen many make a positive contribution to wider society, with more than 8,000 students engaged in voluntary work.

To recognise these exceptional endeavours, Queen's Students' Union recently hosted its first ever Volunteering Excellency Awards.

The audience, which included local residents, councillors, MLAs, members of the PSNI and representatives from charities, alongside Queen's students and staff, was treated to an uplifting evening depicting students in a light they are not often enough seen.

While all the entrants were winners, those that shone out included Amy Keegan, Student Volunteer of the Year, who has been involved in the Students' Union charity, Rag, for two years.

Amy was responsible for leading a team of QUB climbers to Mount Kilamanjaro and raised £50,000 for Childreach International. The judging panel praised Amy not only for her own volunteering, but in encouraging and inspiring others.

The Queen's Improvement to Society Award went to Ryan Donnelly, from the School of Pharmacy, for his work on developing a drug-delivery system for babies. Premature babies are often on many drugs and, with developing organs, it is difficult to know what concentration of medication to give them without causing side-effects.

Pioneering work by Ryan has led to the development of a micro-needle patch system, which takes samples from the baby continuously and provides accurate information to aid the administration of drugs.

Other winners included student Sheila Cassidy and her team for their Calendar Girls-style calendar in aid of Pips (Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide and Self-Harm). The idea to create the calendar to raise funds arose after she attended suicide-prevention training provided by the charity.

The Students Working Overseas Trust QUB (Swot QUB) won the Voluntary Club/Society of the Year. President Emma O'Kane and her medical student colleagues raised more than £40,000 for hospitals in the Third World, where fourth-year medical students spend their summer elective.

The Special Recognition Award was dedicated to Students In Free Enterprise (Sife). Their many student-led projects embodied the volunteering and entrepreneurial spirit of Queen's students, inspiring a spirit of change in the student body.

Their projects have received national and international recognition from Sife UK and NUS. Some of their award-winning projects included Innovateher, inspiring young women to get involved in business, Money +, educating young people how best to look after their money, and Fusion, a cross-community project bringing primary schools together in a stock market challenge.

With more £250,000 raised for good causes in the last year by Queen's students, many local charities are benefitting significantly, including Autism NI, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, Youthlife and the Stroke Association of NI.

Association director Tom Richardson said: "Often, you only see the negative portrayal of our young people. It is very easy to forget the amazing work the majority of the student body are involved in."

Recognising volunteers for their efforts is an important part of inspiring and encouraging others, but also showing them that their place and their work in the global community is appreciated. All the nominees were winners and they are brilliant role models for our student body and the youth of the future.

So, maybe, the next time you hear a negative story about a student, you might also remember that there are many, many more who are making a real and lasting contribution to society - both here and further afield.

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