Maximise the real-world potential of your studies: civic engagement through CIVICA
LSE's Rhydian Cleaver, BSc Politics (3rd year), explains how civic engagement experience can boost students' future prospects whilst doing something meaningful for the world, and why the CIVICA Engage Track is a golden opportunity to develop civic engagement skills.
One of the themes of LSE's Student Futures is "Engaging with Civic Issues." Why do you think it’s important to get involved with civic engagement?
Civic engagement is a brilliant opportunity to combine your individual development with a commitment to engage sustainably with the world around you. Coming from a university with an emphasis on social research, civic engagement enables students to get right to the heart of the issues that inspire us. It entails a broad range of learning and research activities in which students work directly with the community outside of university.
From local charities and community groups, to leading NGOs and think tanks, civic engagement initiatives pair students with organisations that work to have a meaningful impact on a particular area of society. Civic engagement is perfect for those who enjoy learning through solving challenging problems. The topics that you deal with vary – from improving crucial services today, to thinking of creative solutions to the problems of tomorrow. By taking leading roles in the research process, students not only learn about the topics at hand, but gain the vital skills to become future leaders, researchers, and change-makers. For me, taking the drive that we all have for the social sciences, and applying these to real world challenges, is what coming to university is all about.
How did you start working with Student Futures – Civic Engagement?
The opportunity to engage in projects that inspire meaningful change has excited me throughout my time at LSE. Particularly, thinking about the power that students have to shape the way that knowledge is made and shared urged me to develop my skills as a researcher. I was thrilled to work with the Civic Engagement wing of Student Futures as it took its first steps. Working with the research community here at LSE, I delved into the ways that civic engagement can help our community form more sustainable, inclusive relationships with the world around us. I loved finding out how civic engagement allows us to learn in more holistic ways, and to question what it means to be a member of the community.
Following on from this, I have become all the more engaged with the community here at LSE, at CIVICA, and more widely. From sharing my experiences of learning as a student academic mentor, to thinking of new ways to emphasise change in the ideas I encounter, I continue to carry the mission of Student Futures with me as I learn.
How has this experience impacted how you see your future?
This experience has had an immeasurable impact on the confidence I have in my future and hope for what lies ahead for our community. The times that we’ve experienced recently have given us space to think about the problems that need to change most in the world. For me, conducting research outside of the classroom enabled me to see myself as a researcher who could have a real impact on the world. To communicate my ideas with others and see the final product take shape was exciting. Now, I am looking to complete a Research Masters in Sociology, where I can discover more about the ways that inequality is made and experienced in our society.
There’s a lot of community work going on locally. Why is it so important that students take part in transnational civic engagement experiences such as the CIVICA Engage Track's European Week?
One of the driving principles of civic engagement is the ability to reach outside of your comfort zone. Projects that extend across countries and institutions enable us to develop our skillset in new ways, with new people. The transnational focus of experiences such as CIVICA Engage Track’s European Week are a perfect way to do this. European Week gathers students from across Europe to engage collectively in tackling one central problem. Putting our resources together to co-operate across multiple contexts urges us to think about common problems in ways we might not have considered before. When we do this, the broad range of experiences and perspectives that we come across strengthens our ability to create meaningful change. At the same time, shining a light on these issues brings us closer as a European community of learners and citizens.
Sounds like there’s much to be gained from civic engagement experience. Any tips for your fellow LSE students on pursuing this?
Owing to its focus on being inclusive and encouraging, there are a wealth of ways to get involved with civic engagement. A commitment to think outside of the box, consider a range of perspectives, and demonstrate initiative is all you need to take part successfully in civic engagement. Luckily, more and more opportunities to gain experiences are becoming available across our universities. At LSE, the Student Futures programme hosts a number of opportunities to get involved with civic issues, through research partnerships and individual volunteering opportunities. Here, the Volunteer Centre has a number of tailor-made programmes that incorporate community perspectives into student activities — from one-off volunteering opportunities, to their great Take Action seminar series.
If you’d like to get involved with civic engagement this year, CIVICA’s European Week is a great way to tackle an issue relevant to people across Europe and beyond. It is a space to share ideas, gain research experience, and generate solutions together with a diverse community of students. Taking part in civic engagement provides an opportunity to drive change that you certainly won’t regret!
Interview conducted by Gabbie Santos (LSE) for the LSE Student Futures blog