Creating active citizens

For Michelle Scott, the Director of UWA’s McCusker Centre for Citizenship, community engagement springs from a firm belief in ‘active citizenship’. Spending her life collaborating with others, she clearly has the ability to look for the best in any situation.

“I’m an optimist,” says the former WA Commissioner for Children and Young People and State Public Advocate, who has headed the McCusker Centre since 2015. “And I believe you have to be both engaged and optimistic to make a difference.”

Established with a bequest from the McCusker Charitable Foundation, the centre aims to inspire students and the broader community to be active, lifelong contributors to the community, while at the same time raising awareness about the modern world’s challenging social issues.

Students apply for and can gain course credits by taking part in structured internships during a semester.

Working with social enterprises, not-for-profit and community organisations, government and business, both in Australia and overseas, they cover a large range of issues.

“To date, our students have contributed more than 44,400 hours in service to the community,” says Dr Scott. 

Our programs have definitely struck a chord with our partner organisations locally, nationally and globally, who 100 per cent endorse what we do. We’re making a difference and there is certainly a great appetite amongst UWA students to make change in their community.

Taking on global poverty

Volunteering at a Coldplay concert as part of a campaign to stop cuts to foreign aid is just one of many highlights from Shakira Donovan’s three-month internship in New York.

The final-year UWA psychology student from Canning Vale was selected to work with Global Citizen, an international education and advocacy organisation working to end extreme poverty by 2030.

“The concert was on my first day and was part of the annual Global Citizen campaign in Central Park,” she explains. “Chris Martin from Coldplay is the creative director.

I was tasked, along with other interns and volunteers, with asking concert-goers to lobby their local Congress members to invest in international aid.”

Inspired by her mother, who has worked in the not-for-profit sector for 20 years, Shakira says her internship took volunteering "to the next level".

“Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start or how to make a positive impact, which is what I love about the McCusker Centre for Citizenship – it makes ‘doing good’ accessible,” she says.

I was given the opportunity to be involved with an organisation that has an incredible impact on so many big issues through education and advocacy, and I’m hoping this experience will help me make a career working in that area.

Homeless healthcare van
Shakira on assignment in New York as part of her internship.

Helping men with mental health

When UWA Engineering master’s student Alex Arnold took up an internship to revamp the website for the Albany Men’s Resource Centre, he also landed the ambitious task of creating an app that provides men with tools to manage their mental health.

“I was looking for an internship in the mental health sector but one where I could also use the skills I had learnt through my bachelor’s degree in computer science,” says Alex.

“When I found the internship in Albany it ticked all the boxes! Physical, mental, social health – you can't be a healthy person without all three."

I think a lot of people, especially men, just think about physical health and they don't talk about mental health as much.

Alex, 23, was exposed to the day-to-day workings of the centre – from going on bike rides with Grant (the centre’s CEO) and the men participating in the Positive Mentoring Program to helping out with the centre’s wellness checks in the community.

Being involved in their work was a huge learning experience,” Alex says. “It's not like anything else you'll do. A lot of companies want to find people to fit their culture, and something like this internship gives you the sort of experience you can't learn at university.

Homeless healthcare van
Alex (second from left) takes a break with participants in the Positive Mentoring Program run by the Men's Resource Centre, after a group bike ride around Albany.

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