To be honest, I remember applying to the Gold Scholarship Programme (GSP) with little faith in the success of my application; with only 50 out of a few thousand scholars being selected each year, I assumed my chances were low.. But I still took my time and put thought into writing my supporting statement, and it paid off!
How the GSP helped me settle into uni life
Being part of the GSP automatically meant I was part of a community, over 50 brand new faces that quickly became points of familiarity around campus. I’m sure many of us will agree that starting university and living in a brand-new city, with the pressure of forming ‘life-long’ friendships, was quite daunting, so having sessions with the other Gold Scholars eased me into creating bonds early on.
Just as importantly, the GSP taught me key skills to support me in working towards my future goals. A big focus throughout my first year of the GSP was networking. From developing my understanding of professionalism and etiquette, I was confident enough to put my networking skills into play during the end of year celebration meal, where I had the honour of meeting and speaking to many amazing mentors and professionals. On this particular evening, I felt especially empowered by all the amazing, high achieving women I spoke to. As intimidating as the event initially seemed, I ended the night having had many jokes and a great laugh with the mentors on my table, so it was a relief realising that, besides their amazing work, they too are just like us, figuring their way through life and careers paths!
Benefits of VAR
Personally, the volunteering (VAR) aspect of the scholarship is what I have found to be most beneficial. Prior to university, I had never had the confidence (nor saw the advantage) to go out of my way and take on voluntary roles such as ‘Head girl/boy’ at school. The idea of being known by the entire school terrified me, I was also comforted by the idea of being unknown, unheard of even, which I always had been amongst my peers.
However, not long after joining University of Bath and the GSP and cracking on with searching for sectors to volunteer within, I very quickly realised how much building a network would enhance my chances of finding further opportunities. Naturally, to find roles that I was genuinely interested in and would be a great opportunity to gain experience in for my future (rather than accept any role for the purpose of completing my VAR hours), I had to do some digging around and communicate to big organisations.
Personally, based on my interest in mental wellbeing and helping others, my starting point was to contact Mind, a mental health charity. After the initial scary step of reaching out and asking them if I could volunteer and help them, I completed the interview stage and started helping in the Mind charity shop weekly. Whilst researching about the charity, I also signed up to their newsletter of opportunities and projects, thinking nothing of it as I didn’t really expect myself to take on any further projects so soon. Very quickly after starting, another opportunity came along, and I surprisingly had the courage to apply! I was eager to use this chance to explore potential areas of interest for the future, and helping in a charity shop wasn’t really what I had in mind long-term.. Since then, I’ve volunteered (and still do) alongside the Special Events Manger at Mind to establish, organise, and host events to raise children and young adults’ awareness about mental wellbeing. This is merely one part of my volunteering journey during my first year of being a Gold Scholar; I have since managed to find many more amazing roles that suit my future career interests, but they have mainly given me a sense of pride and honour in helping so many people!
Preparation for second year
The GSP has helped me prepare for my second year of university before I even knew it! Since Day One, the GSP has placed an emphasis on building connections and networks, not only for professional benefits, but just as importantly, for self-growth in all aspects. As I mentioned, the GSP has helped me gain confidence amongst my peers as well as amongst professionals/mentors, and in general has given me a community to turn to for support for any reason, at any given point! Although starting second year came with a lot of new aspects, such as new living situation, new lecturers, new assignments etc, it was a relief to at least be able to return to the Gold community of familiar faces.
Well done Harisa! Congratulations on getting into the GSP programme and really enjoyed reading your blog! 🙂