The Student
Melissa Steel encourages students to contribute to the community

Communications Manager of both the Finance Department and Community Engagement, Melissa Steel speaks to The Student in an interview to discuss the ways in which she is promoting sustainability projects around the university.

In terms of sustainability, Melissa describes the Community Engagement element of her role. A large part of this is the Edinburgh Local Grant, which she describes as the “flagship element of our community engagement.” Melissa explains that:

“Through that, we provide community grants to people in Edinburgh.

“We also promote and champion various things around the university, where we have members of staff and students working in the community, so we have projects like our Digital Ambassadors Projects, where we recruit volunteers from the university community to increase digital literacy in Edinburgh.

“My role is promoting all these activities and things like social media, newsletters, trying to spread the word, talking to those like you [The Student].

“In terms of sustainability, we do fund projects throughout the university that encourage sustainability within the city.

“For Starbank Park, we are funding a sustainable growing project, which gets members of the public involved in growing sustainable plants and using sustainable pots that are better for the environment.”

On promoting community engagement and a sense of social responsibility, Melissa promotes the idea of a strong social media presence to encourage those not already involved.

“It’s great to have sustainability initiatives that people can opt into, but we need to have greater visibility with the message about projects we’re trying to do.

“[To do this, we use] Instagram takeovers, Twitter and Facebook, because at the end of the day, they’re what it’s all about, it’s showing the community and how the community interact with the university.”

In terms of volunteers and involvement, Melissa describes a “great uptake” for the Digital Ambassadors Project. The project, set up in 2016, was nominated last year for a Green Gown Awards, a prestigious Sustainability and Higher Education Awards.

“It started as a smaller initiative, but we see that there are many people who aren’t online, or those who don’t have those skills are really keen to learn [who come] from many different groups. So it’s something that has been steadily increasing in popularity.”

On students’ role within the local community, Melissa points to many students’ attachment to their university city.

“The university is a civic institution, it’s founded in and is an intrinsic part of the city. It’s part of that tradition I think, to get involved in what’s going on.”

To get involved, “The volunteering scheme we run is a good way. Digital Ambassadors have an elderly learner’s group. People who volunteer on that and people who are on the course both enjoy [it], and [it’s an] opportunity to meet someone from a community that they might not have otherwise interacted with.

“Students may not be coming into contact with elderly people necessarily all the time, but they find that they really enjoy stories and life experiences that people have.”

There is a wide range of ways students can get involved in such projects, Melissa says:

“We have our Community Grants coming up, and that opens on Monday [7 October]. That’s directed at members of the community. If you’re a student you can’t apply directly, but if you’re part of an organisation involved with the university, that’s something that can be applied for.

“There’s the Student Volunteering Hub [that the Student’s Association have set up that allows students to] find more opportunities that they might be interested in doing.

“Lots of students have done great things in the community at the moment. Get in touch if that’s you. We’d love to hear from you and celebrate what you’re doing.”

More information:

Digital Ambassadors:

Community grants:

Business School event:

Examples of student-led projects:

Image: University of Edinburgh