Why volunteering on the Stonehouse Residential was the highlight of my summer

Ever since she arrived at Trinity, Charlene Tang has volunteered on outreach activities.  Now in her third year, the Natural Sciences student explains her motivation, and why the Stonehouse Residential was the highlight of her summer. 

Why is outreach and access important to you?

I have been volunteering on Trinity’s summer residentials since my first year here, as I myself took part in the Biological & Medical Sciences Residential in 2015, after my Year 12. I had not really considered Cambridge a realistic ‘option’, but the experience on the residential completely changed my perspective.

I was so inspired by the lectures and conversations I had with undergraduates at the time that their experiences became my goals. I want to encourage this motivation and belief in other school and sixth-form students. How could I not give back and help someone else gain the confidence that I definitely lacked at the time?

Charlene with Stonehouse Residential participants arriving at the MRC LMB

Why did you volunteer on the Stonehouse Residential?

I volunteered on this residential as I completely agreed with the Trinity and Stonehouse vision to encourage an aspiration to higher education and develop a broad range of skills in Year 11 students. Too few secondary school students can access the experiences that help them develop such skills, for example the ability to explain a concept or discuss an idea (particular to people they don’t know); and resilience – the capacity to deal with the unexpected in situations familiar and unknown.

(Read more below from Sarah Chick, of Villiers Park Educational Trust, about the importance of these skills.)

What did you get out of it?

I met so many inspiring students from a variety of backgrounds, several of whom had overcome hurdle after hurdle to get to where they were. I was so impressed with the students – they actively engaged with the tasks and grew as young adults over the residential. Having sat in on a few morning lectures and ‘supervisions’, their enthusiasm was contagious. We dived headfirst into our group project on antibiotics that night, and I could not help but get so excited that I spontaneously reached out to several institutions, including the Biochemistry Department, and the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (where I undertook a research project after my first year) about the possibility of hosting a tour for the biology and medicine groups on the Stonehouse Residential.

The LMB is such a fantastic place I really couldn’t resist, especially with numerous affiliated Trinity Fellows, from Nobel Laureates Professor Venki Ramakrishnan and Sir Gregory, to my supervisors Dr Murray Stewart and Dr Jason Chin, and even our Trinity College Scientific Society adviser, Dr Alan Weeds. So I was delighted to wake up the next morning to positive replies from both institutions inviting us to have a look around and was even more excited to tell the students!

Does outreach work offer any other benefits?

Access work really reminds me of what motivated me to pursue a Cambridge education in the first place. It’s also valuable motivation in my third year of Natural Sciences as I decide what to pursue next. For sure, access work continues to develop my own communication and teamwork skills, as not only do we coordinate shifts throughout the three or four day period, but we also have to communicate effectively with students at a different stage of their education rather than with researchers and professors!

Year 12 participants on the Stonehouse Residential

Trinity College collaborates with Villiers Park Education Trust to help equip and inspire more students from less-advantaged backgrounds to consider applying and securing a place at leading universities. The Trust’s Director of Education, Sarah Chick, led sessions at the Stonehouse Residential this summer to prepare participants for their group projects. Here she explains what skills they learnt and why these are important. 

When you think of the most iconic leaders in history, you are often really thinking of someone’s ability to articulate their thoughts into an influential message. Winston Churchill, arguably one of the greatest leaders of all time, often communicated through powerful quotes, regularly referring to bravery and never giving in as part of his key messaging: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”.

These characteristics, which we might now define as motivation, resilience and communicating effectively, are clearly hugely important to succeed in life, enabling an individual to maximise the impact of their academic ability. For example, if a young person is highly academic but lacks the confidence and skills to succeed at interview, the likelihood of gaining a place at a top university or job is severely decreased.

Villiers Park Educational Trust refer to these attributes as the ‘Skills4Success’, 20 key personal and employability skills that, when used successfully, enhance academic performance and translate into better exam performance*.

Young people from less-advantaged backgrounds often have fewer opportunities to develop some of the Skills4Success, so in partnership with Trinity College Cambridge, we designed an academic challenge that incorporated chances to improve these skills for the Trinity Stonehouse Residential. To answer an academic question, students were asked to plan a visit into Cambridge and obtain information from various sources while working as part of a team. This all had to be achieved in a tight time scale, in order to produce a final presentation that everybody had to play a role in delivering.

Accepting the challenge presented ample opportunities to improve skills such as project management, leadership, inclusivity, independence and the confidence to communicate effectively. Without exception, all groups produced a final presentation where everyone contributed. Mission accomplished – plus 45 young people reporting through feedback that they now feel better prepared for sixth form studies and applying to university.

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