At Staffordshire University Students' Union, we have had more student volunteers than we can count. Each one making change and positive impacts in so many ways, acheiving benefits for themselves, both our students and wider communities and the environment.
We recently caught up with Staffs alumni, Mark and discussed his journey at Staffs, his impact and acheivements whilst studying and working here and found out what he's up to now.
Mark, what did you study here at Staffs?
"For my undergrad degree I studied Environment & Sustainability, a mix of human and physical geography that focussed on key environmental issues – climate and climate change, biodiversity loss, and physical processes, as well as sustainability challenges such as how cities respond to a changing climate, managing the UKs countryside and the social challenges that climate change will cause.
I followed this up after a short break working with a distance learning Masters in Sustainability & Environmental Management, which had a stronger focus on the tools and techniques used by governments, organisations, and businesses to manage their impact on the environment – it was really eye opening to see just how many different specialisms, jobs and laws are in the background to protect our environment."
What did you do alongside your studies?
"I was always keen to get out and meet people when I got to Uni, so I went to the Clubs & Socs Welcome fair. I gave Badminton and Ultimate Frisbee a go, I wasn’t as good as I had remembered at badminton but stuck with Ultimate Frisbee and joined the committee for the 2 years after. The usual admin of running the club helped develop my transferable skills, things like running trainings and socials, setting and spending a group budget, managing safety, and helping ensure everyone else felt welcomed and enjoyed themselves. I helped sort travel and transport for our first BUCS season, we attended amateur tournaments across the UK and even managed to get to Spain and Italy. It was also good fun to exercise, and compete representing Staffs.
Joining a group was the biggest single positive whilst I studied, and I am still good friends with my team. I helped support my group, and they helped to support me too."
How did you get into volunteering whilst you we are Staffs?
"Whilst doing my masters I was looking for volunteering experiences that would fit with my course and future career. I started with a few hours each month supporting the Students' Union’s Student Sustainability Board, which lead to me finding out about a range of opportunities in energy saving and audits, tree and wildflower planting, litter picks and sustainability audits in student’s houses.
All this volunteering and the skills I picked up lead to an internship with the Students' Union as their Sustainability Coordinator, with the aim of continuing to raise sustainable lifestyle opportunities and tips with students. Things like home efficiency, meat-free Mondays, ethical shopping, and making campus more sustainable too. Securing further funding for this turned into a long-term job."
Green Impact Students' Unions is an accreditation framework that Staffs Students' Union participates in to ensure and demonstrate good sustainable practices within the organisation. How did you contribute to this work?
"One part of my role brought together the different departments in the Students' Union to report on all the changes they were making to help reduce the impact on the environment, and for a time I chaired the Students' Union's Green Working Group. I helped elected officers and staff to carry out changes that students asked for, such as food recycling in Ember and Squeezebox, better access to water refills, and more sustainable choices in Union Shops and carried out energy audits. Towards the end of the academic year, I would co-ordinate The Great Donate, a recycling campaign that encourages students to recycle their unwanted items before vacating their accomodation and would work closely with partners such as City Dogs Home and the British Heart Foundation.
Each year I would help write our Green Impact Report, setting out each of the steps we had taken in the previous year, which was then audited by the NUS, (and now SOS UK) where we repeatedly graded as ‘Excellent’ – demonstrating how much work across the Student’s Union goes into meeting students demands of a more environmentally friendly organisation."
You packed a lot into your time at Staffs; You've always had a passion for the environment, studied Sustainabilty and Environmental Management, both volunteered and worked in the Students' Union in sustainability roles and no doubt made some useful contacts and networks along the way. How has your Staffs experience helped you to progress in your career? What are you doing now?
"I always knew that environmental consultancy was a large recruiter from my area of knowledge, and I took my first steps with ‘Ricardo’ in Manchester working in the Water team. There’s a lot to do and I can work on some interesting and challenging projects. A lot of our work comes from water companies helping them to plan their supply management, things like planning for droughts, screening large projects like pipelines, reservoirs, and water treatment plants, or helping to assess the environmental impact of proposed changes. Working in such a varied consultancy has also given me the chance to carryout fieldwork with our Ecology and Hydrology teams across the country, sampling water, carrying out river flow monitoring and collecting invertebrate samples to check river health."
Thank you Mark it's great to hear that you're working in an area that you're so passionate about and that the wide variety of opportunities that you undertook during your time at Staffs helped to support your career goals.