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Every year, over 6 million Australians (including many NYSF alumni) participate in voluntary work, with their efforts contributing nearly $300 billion to the economy.

Volunteering can expand our leadership, passion, and creativity within the fields of Science, Engineering, Technology, and Maths (STEM). It improves our connection to people, and our local environment and improves our professional and personal growth.

In the latest NYSF Connect webinar, we heard from an incredible line-up of panelists who had fascinating insights and stories about volunteering. Our panelists spoke about their volunteering journeys and how volunteering has led them throughout their STEM careers. They shared their experiences and how anyone can get involved and begin their volunteering journey.

We were honoured to be joined by, Professor Russell Gruen (Dean of the College of Health and Medicine, ANU and NYSF 1985), Dr Catriona Nguyen-Robertson (NYSF 2011) and Samantha Fewster (NYSF 2008).  Facilitating the discussion was our host, Isaac Kozlovskis (NYSF 2019), one of our incoming 2023 NYSF Chiefs of Staff.

Volunteering: Make it a part of your STEM journey - content image

Professor Gruen emphasised the importance of volunteering and shared his own experiences as a volunteer when he was studying medicine.

“My first volunteer experience happened when I was a university student and a fifth-year medical student, and one of the things we got to do was go and visit somewhere else and do something a bit different.

"I really wanted to go and experience third-world medicine, but I also liked to climb mountains, so I went to Nepal to a leprosy hospital outside of Kathmandu. I spent two months there doing reconstructive surgery and visiting remote communities where we'd walk for a couple of days to check our patient's condition and how they were going, their medicine supply, and then we'd walk back again,” Professor Gruen said.

“I thought this was absolutely wonderful.”

Following his time in Nepal, Professor Gruen continued his volunteer work for the Leprosy Mission, mapping and doing basic surveillance on leprosy in Vietnam.

“I wrote this nice report for the Lepory Mission and they actually did implement some new programs in Vietnam which wasn't a country they had been working in before. I was pretty proud of that.”

Dr Catriona Nguyen-Robertson said volunteering was very rewarding and spoke about her experience as a volunteer with the Sensory Science Exhibition.

“Some of us are involved in immunology and we're all involved in imaging and we thought, what if we shared our work and the basics of the immune system and all sorts of sciences with the blind and low-vision community?”

“We spent several weeks designing tactile posters…everything was very tactile and fun and it was lovely to see on the day, all of these people from the blind and low vision community coming in, and they'd never had something like this before. They'd never had science demonstrated to them like this before. It was so wonderful to have them engaged and ask questions.”

Samantha Fewster spoke about her experience as a Rotaract member.

"I went to Zimbabwe on a Rotaract trip. I was hosted by a family and with trusted people and when we were there, it was Rotaract's 50th anniversary. In Zimbabwe and Malai, they were doing 50 projects in their communities involving water sanitation to mark this incredible celebration, and I thought 'how amazing is that?”

“I came back home and told my Rotaract branch and we ended up partnering with a club in Malawi. We held a fundraising event – a "Battle of the Bands" – and we sent the funds to a club in Malawi and they used that money to buy materials to teach school girls how to make reusable sanitary pads."

There is no doubt the alumni audience left the discussion feeling inspired to go out there and make further positive changes with the take-home message that we can all make a difference.

A huge thank you to our panelists for joining us for this special event – their experiences and insights from volunteering and forging their career path made the event incredibly engaging and valuable for NYSF alumni.