A unique internship program that provides students from The University of Western Australia with an opportunity to give back to their communities has surpassed a milestone of more than 1000 internships, contributing more than 100,000 hours’ service to the community.
Through the McCusker Centre for Citizenship at UWA, hundreds of students over the past four years have stepped forward and contributed in a meaningful way to the community, from teaching kids in the Pilbara the importance of a healthy diet and exercise to assisting vulnerable young people in Gosnells.
Established in 2015 with a generous endowment from the McCusker Charitable Foundation, the Centre aims to foster caring, connected and socially-engaged citizens who are actively involved in contributing to the wellbeing of their communities.
"I was interested in the internship program because I didn’t want to sit in a classroom all the time; I wanted to get some real-life experience."Nothando Ngwenya
Foundation Director and Chairman and former WA Governor, The Honourable Malcolm McCusker AC CVO QC, said the Centre was the first of its kind in Australia.
“The Centre has been a gratifying and remarkable success,” Mr McCusker said.
“It has been a delight for me and my fellow Advisory Board to learn from young students of the beneficial impact that their internship experiences have had on their sense of social purpose and education for life.”
Centre Director Michelle Scott said the program provided structured, practical learning opportunities for students to develop a greater capacity for civic responsibility.
“Our students are undertaking degrees in a wide range of disciplines and we have established partnerships with more than 250 organisations in WA including not-for-profit and community groups, government and business,” Ms Scott said.
“Indeed our program is embedded in the community.”
In a cumulative survey conducted by the Centre, 96 per cent of student interns said they would recommend the internship program to their peers, while 95 per cent of host organisations said they would recommend partnering with the Centre to fellow organisations.
UWA Interim Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander AO said the number of students wanting to undertake internships continued to grow.
“This is consistent with what research is telling us: that young people are looking for social purpose in their education and career paths,” Professor den Hollander said.
Antonella Segre, CEO of not-for-profit ConnectGroups said her organisation had been involved with the Centre from the outset.
“We saw the value of the program and bringing in students and we’ve had 11 students come through our organisation since 2016,” Ms Segre said.
“What I love about this program is the premise of exposing students across all areas of the community sector and for them to have that awareness of the work that’s being done. It’s so important for them to see what being done across the community services sector.
“We have a commitment to make the student’s internship worthwhile so there needs to be a full organisational approach. My philosophy is I want to give them a real piece of work that’s meaningful.”
Asthma WA marketing and communications manager Freya Barr said she had hosted and worked with at least six interns specifically in marketing roles as well as another six who had been working with the fundraising teams.
“I’m always looking for opportunities to host a student, often finding the best roles are those that will help the organisation as well as provide a great learning experience for the student,” Ms Barr said.
“Students bring different skills and perspectives to the team. Each student I have worked with is enthusiastic and thirsty to learn.
“To have an extra set of hands and another brilliant mind to work with us, allows us to achieve more while also (I hope) giving the student a great experience of working in a charity and seeing the impact of the work they do in the community.”
UWA student Riley Dolman, who will complete a Master of Exercise Physiology at the end of the year, undertook an internship through the Centre with community-based health and sport charity Fair Game in 2018, which runs programs for school children in under-serviced areas.
“Fair Game was like a perfect match for me,” Mr Dolman said.
“I spent a week up north, did a trip to Karijini National Park and attended a camp, where working with the local youth gave me an insight into some of the work Fair Game does.
“My internship had a big impact on what I want to do and regional health is at the forefront of my mind. I’m still volunteering with Fair Game and travelling regionally and now I see myself doing that as a job – using sport as a means of preventative medicine.”
Due to complete her Master of International Development next month, Nothando Ngwenya completed her internship last year with Save the Children.
Ms Ngwenya worked with Save the Children’s youth program in Armadale which supports vulnerable young people and helps divert them away from the criminal justice system.
During her internship she helped expand the program to Gosnells.
“I was interested in the internship program because I didn’t want to sit in a classroom all the time; I wanted to get some real-life experience,” Ms Ngwenya said.
“Doing an internship adds so much value to the educational experience and you also get to learn more about yourself; how you work within an organisation and what you’re passionate about.”