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Volunteering, in and out of your comfort zone

Published: Jun 4, 2019 3 min read

STEM learning

Natalie Cheung receiving the university of Manchester Alumni Volunteer of the Year award

Natalie Cheung is a STEM Ambassador and STEM Ambassador Coordinator in the London hub. She was recently awarded the University of Manchester Alumni Volunteer of the Year award and University Medal for Social Responsibility for her International Development voluntary work in Togo and Zambia.

I started volunteering as a STEM Ambassador while studying an undergraduate degree in Manchester. Even though I was not interested in youth work at the time, I was drawn to promoting STEM through fun LEGO robotics workshops for local female pupils. As well as helping me feel more part of the community in a new city, volunteering allowed me to develop and demonstrate key employability skills.

My volunteer experience gave me clear examples of organisation, leadership, teamwork and communication skills for job applications and interviews. I always tell people that interviewers were more interested in my voluntary work than my actual university projects! In particular, they were impressed I had been self-motivated and used my initiative to promote careers in engineering. I would recommend volunteering if you are looking to develop your skills, whichever stage in your career you are!

After I joined an engineering graduate role, I continued to volunteer as a STEM Ambassador including at The Big Bang London, New Scientist, The Royal Institution and The Royal Society. I also took a sabbatical and volunteered overseas on government-funded International Development projects. During this time, I led a multi-national group of British and Togolese volunteers, delivered training to overseas communities and worked with a Zambian renewable energy enterprise. These placements put me far out of my comfort zone and required me to be adaptable and resilient like never before! I became far more self-aware and discovered the work that I find energising and fulfilling. 

I am hugely passionate about motivating teams to volunteer and promoting diversity in STEM which led to my role with the STEM Ambassador London Hub. I am still involved with multiple engineering committees, the Institution of Civil Engineers and the charities I volunteer overseas with. I also volunteer as a STEM Ambassador as much as I can!.

In my role at STEM Learning, I support and train a huge number of STEM Ambassadors from different industries and career stages. I have seen there are many different reasons why STEM Ambassadors volunteer – whether they want the sense of fulfilment, to minimise the skills shortage in their industry, to improve diversity, for their continual professional development, to improve the employer’s brand awareness or recruitment, to meet new people  - or something else! Regardless of their motivations, all STEM Ambassadors make a huge difference for the young people they work with. I am inspired by other volunteers every day and have seen the impact they all have first-hand.

Natalie was recently awarded the University of Manchester Alumni Volunteer of the Year award and University Medal for Social Responsibility. For this they put together a video highlighting Natalie's achievment.

If you are interested in volunteering as a STEM Ambassador or inviting a STEM Ambassador to inspire the young people you work with you can find more information here.