HKUST Connect engages students to give back and learn via the Serve 25 initiative
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) students are volunteering for community service as part of the institution’s 25th silver jubilee anniversary celebrations. The activities, which are arranged under the Serve 25 initiative, benefit a wide range of worthy Hong Kong causes.
Students have volunteered to work with the elderly, young children and youth groups, the mentally and physically challenged, animal welfare groups, and environmental groups. The Serve 25 campaign began in September 2015 and run until the end of April. “The goal is for each student to complete 25 hours of voluntary community service,” says Helen Wong, associate director (co-curricular programme) and HKUST Connect programme director at the HKUST Student Affairs Office. A number of students have already completed 25 hours of service, Wong notes.
“Serve 25 is an ideal way for students to participate in the HKUST 25th anniversary celebrations, while they enrich their education experiences, and further strengthen the university’s engagement with the wider community,” says Wong. Serve 25 also provides an opportunity for students to experience the rewards of community service volunteering activities, and observe the positive impact they can bring to the community, Wong notes.
More than 900 students have signed up for Serve 25 so far. Students can choose from a range of projects and programmes presented by HKUST Connect, which acts as the community engagement platform. They can also complete 25 hours of voluntary work with an organisation of their own choosing. Each student keeps a record of the number of hours they spend carrying out the voluntary work, and this is endorsed by a member of staff from the participating organisation.
Since HKUST Connect was established in 2009, over 4,100 student volunteers have served the community for a total of over 100,000 hours. Wong says HKUST students and faculty take part in community service activities with more than 80 organisations on a regular basis. “We have a wide variety of service projects to fit almost everyone’s interests and schedules,” says Wong.
Volunteering allows students to gain new experiences, and develop technical, social, and academic skills outside of the classroom environment, Wong adds. HKUST Connect professionals lead debriefing with volunteers after the service to consolidate their insights and learning. In some cases, the reflective process changed their lives, Wong says.
With its partner organisations, HKUST Connect arranges service-learning visits to Cambodia, the mainland, Macau, as well as locally. This allows students to work with children and underprivileged communities. “Students are able to gain authentic cultural experiences while making a real contribution. It helps to broaden their horizons, and raise awareness of their responsibilities as a global citizen,” says Wong. HKUST Connect also organises the HKUST Service Learning Day each year. This coincides with Global Youth Service Day, in which students, faculty and alumni work together to engage with the community in a meaningful and memorable way.
Rita Law Ho-ching, a HKUST Global China Studies student, says volunteering is an important part of her university life. She has so far completed 400hours of community service. “My involvement with ethnic minority groups and low-income families in Hong Kong has given me cultural insights. It has put me in contact with people and NGO groups, people that I would not have met in the classroom,” Law says. The final-year student adds that she has been able to make many new friends while developing some ‘soft’ skills. “The experience has definitely had an influence on how I want to shape my career and who I would like to work with,” says Law.
Frances Chung Oi-yee, a final-year Information Systems and Operations Management student, uses her academic knowledge to develop enjoyable learning programmes for ethnic minority groups. “It’s inspiring to put academic knowledge into practice in a way that benefits others,” says Chung. Year Three Professional Accounting and Information Systems student Oscar Chan Long-hung, who has devised a junior financial planner simulation game to help secondary school students manage their finances, is similarly enthusiastic.
Chan says he finds volunteer work relaxing and as a way to grow. “We work hard all week studying and revising. When I interact with the people I volunteer to work with, I learn about society. I feel I am the one that is benefiting; I am being influenced in a positive way,” says Chan
Year Two student Celina Hu Yunruo is studying for a dual degree program in Technology and Management. But she says she can always find time in her study schedule for her volunteer work. “It comes down to what you want to do, and making the time to do it,” says Hu, who believes forming good time management habits is a useful skill.
“There are principles and best practice standards to follow in engineering. But I think my experiences will help me to connect with stakeholders more effectively, and think about those people and groups that are not always heard in the community,” notes Hu.