In today’s working world, everyone and their cat seem to have a degree. We are regularly told to make University into so much more than a flimsy certificate, serious debt and some good memories, but how? University, especially Leeds University, throws numerous opportunities at us to do amazing things with our time here, day after day. It is the individuals that grab hold of these opportunities that really set themselves apart from the rest after that inevitable graduation day, learning invaluable skills and getting genuine experience of the ‘real’ world outside our campus bubble. One student who has seemingly made the absolute best of her time at Leeds is Ellie Birch. Ellie is Vice President of External Relations at AIESEC Leeds, a society set up to help students develop their leadership skills. I asked Ellie what exactly she does in this position, and why her AIESEC experience will leave her with so much more than a degree certificate.
HC: Hi Ellie! The first and perhaps most important question, what is AIESEC?
AIESEC is an internationally run organisation made up completely by students for students, and is the biggest student-led organization in the world! We help develop leadership ability by running an exchange program for Leeds students to work abroad and getting overseas students to work for companies here in the UK. This involves teams of AIESEC members approaching local businesses and local students to promote the opportunity to go on a trainee scheme abroad. These are often summer placements, though they can be as long or short as the student and company wishes. Aside from this, we also run various events and workshops for students around campus throughout the year.
HC: You are Vice President and Head of External Relations at AIESEC Leeds; what does this role involve?
As External Relations Vice President I don’t tend to get involved with the work abroad programme; this is left to other teams within AIESEC. I provide the portal between the society and the students themselves, so I run various employability-based events throughout the year. This includes creating and organizing three week marketing campaigns prior to the events I run. I manage a team of three to be able to do all that; I have two events managers as well as a media co-ordinator who writes all of our media publications and gets the AIESEC name out there onto campus.
HC: What sort of events are we talking about?
Overthe first term, we have been running an event called ‘Give It a Go: 5 skills’. This is basically a course of five skills sessions set up for students to attend in order to ultimately improve their soft skills. The sessions have been on things like ‘marketing yourself’ ‘communication’ and ‘innovation,’ all with the hope to improve students employability on completion of the course. We’ve managed to secure various sponsorship deals from various different companies to run these sessions. This year, for example, we’ve had Jaguar-Landrover, IBM and BMI Baby all running sessions for us. It’s great because setting up these events has meant we have had good contact with future potential employers, and anyone that gets involved with AIESEC and the running of these events gets fantastic exposure to corporate companies.
HC: Fantastic. Why did you decide to get involved with AIESEC in the first place?
I decided to get involved because I saw it as a massive opportunity to develop and grow as person. It was basically the next step for me in terms of deciding my future career and improving my C.V. It has fulfilled all my expectations and I’m so glad I joined. Working in a business-like structure and a professional environment has given me managerial and communication skills that just can’t be taught or learned without hands-on, practical experience.
HC: What has been your best experience with AIESEC?
There’s been so many! I’ve been to two huge national conferences with all the other AIESEC local committees throughout the UK, there’s over 25 committees so there are lots of new people to meet. The conferences really help AIESEC members improve their skills in order for them to fulfil their roles back in Leeds to the best of their ability. I’ve also been to lots of fancy formal dinners and fancy dress parties. My best experience has to be last year at the Annual Review awards ceremony, where we had a massive boat party in London on the Thames, and won three awards!
HC: Who would benefit from a joining a society like AIESEC? Is it just for business students?
No. I can easily say absolutely any student can benefit from joining a society like AIESEC, or in fact any society at Leeds. Societies are just such great opportunities to develop yourself, gain contacts and make good friends, let alone everything else. Personally, through the connections I made through AIESEC, I managed to land a summer internship to work for the airline company BMI. I worked as a project co-ordinator and managed to do some amazing stuff with them; I went to meetings in Munich and Frankfurt and met some incredible people, most of whom I’m still in good contact with.
HC: You’re a third year Geography and Geology student, what do you plan to do in the future?
Through AIESEC and BMI I’ve worked on quite a lot of projects and managed to gain some good experience, so I would love to go on to do project management if possible. Luckily I’ve made lots of contacts in the last two years – I’m hoping that one of them could help me make my career dream possible!