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Student leaders celebrated with awards

Thursday, 5 October 2017 10:39pm

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The 2017 recipients of University of Otago Student Leadership Awards (UOSLA) with Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne and some of their staff mentors. Photos: Sharron Bennett.

The secret of living is giving, says Physiotherapy student Bridget Watson, who was one of 18 students to this week receive a University of Otago Student Leadership Award (UOSLA) at a ceremony at the Staff Club.

While not a formal qualification, the two-year extra-curricular programme, which was officially launched in 2014, gives students opportunities to develop leadership skills and attributes that would enhance personal growth and employability, as well as make a positive contribution to society.

University Volunteer Centre Coordinator Sze-En Watts says leadership is a skill that is increasingly desired by employers and young people alike.

“The UOSLA provides a supportive platform for students to develop leadership skills through the advancement of leadership understanding and practice.”

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Award recipient Libby Davenport with her mentor, the University's Chief Operating Officer Steve Willis.

Students are paired with a University staff member mentor, who supports them through their leadership journey – as they volunteer for various charities and causes.

Students from the outgoing group of 2017 come from a diverse range of academic backgrounds and have been actively involved in a similarly diverse range of leadership and service activities – from mentoring young people, to working with the disability community, to leading student executives and coordinating community outreach programmes.

At a celebration of this year’s award recipients, Bridget reflected on some of the key experiences that have shaped her leadership development over the course of the programme.

Mentored by School of Business Operations Coordinator Jenni Wright, she committed herself to three main voluntary roles during her two-year leadership journey: the weekly mentoring of “an awesome” autistic man of her own age; the weekly mentoring of a year 7 or 8 child through the University’s Aspire programme; and, along with three other students, creating Unirec, a University club aimed at getting school and University students physically active.

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Award recipient Bridget Watson speaks at the Staff Club function.

She told the audience that the award has taught her that time is a valuable resource.

“What I picked up over my time was that the secret to living is giving. The more time I gave, the more I got back.”

In her speech she described the difference she has been able to make to the life of her autistic mentee.

“After continuously pushing at goal setting with my autistic friend, it was awesome to see him creating small goals, achieving them, and feeling stoked with himself. Many small actions began to add up and led to the more visible accomplishments.

“He has now moved out of the home provided by the Mt Cargill Trust, into an independent flat with a friend, finally finished his CV and he is on the search for part-time paid work. Specifically, he now wants work that utilises his mental potential, after finally realising how much he has.”

For Bridget, receiving the Award and learning more about leadership has been invaluable.

“These three experiences have forced me to learn so much about what I value. Now what I think of myself and how I see myself outweighs what others think of me.

“I would have never done these projects without the initiative, and incentive, this award has given me. Leading is pretty cool, and far more diverse and undefinable that I had cut it out to be.”

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Award recipient Laurie Avia with University Volunteer Centre Coordinator Sze-En Watts.

Ms Watts says students from the UOSLA have contributed over 16 500 hours of leadership and service since the programme began four years ago.

This year’s Award recipients were: Craig Madigan, Molly Rae, Duncan Nicol, Finn Shewell, Roshit Bothara, Sophia Taing, Meghan Stewart-Ward, Laurie Avia, Harry Kirkwood, David Nair, Libby Davenport, Dayna Tan, Bridget Watson, Dawn Richards, Adam Rowe, Kelly Young, Melania Napa’a and Valery Liu.

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Award recipients (from left) Craig Madigan, Sophia Taing and Dayna Tan are all smiles with their awards.

Seeking staff mentors:

The UOSLA relies on staff offering their time to become mentors to students.

“We are always keen to hear from staff who would like to become mentors,” Ms Watts says.

“Students value the opportunity to explore leadership alongside someone with more life experience and a willingness to share their own life and leadership lessons. Staff Mentors are well placed to challenge students’ thinking around leadership and to ask questions that may be less popular but lead to greater critical reflection by students.”

Contact: ola@otago.ac.nz if you are interested.