This is Why I Volunteer
It’s 2:00am and I’m crouched over my computer screen, staring blankly. I know I have an error in my code somewhere—a forgotten comma, colon, or some other minor error, but unable to focus enough to solve it. In less than 18 hours there will be 100 teachers walking in to mark the Young Scientist competition, and I still don’t have the marking software fixed! It’s important to stop and think, so decided to get my head out of this and have a coffee break.
Young Scientist Awards is a premiere STEM competition in New South Wales (NSW) Australia where I regularly volunteer as a mentor to young students challenged to carry out scientific investigations or create an innovative device. By now, I have already invested thousands of hours in volunteering for Young Scientists, and occasionally I have second thoughts about the amount of effort that I put in. When this happens, I stop and think about the things that it gives back to me and why I continue to do this.
In volunteering for Young Scientists, the reward comes at the moment when I see a young Australian stand on top of the world winning the most prestigious science competition for students not at university; or when I see a student from rural Australia realize that her horizon is not just what she sees in school, but that she is capable of competing on the world stage; or when I see a young scientist take out NSW Young Australian of the Year award. All these things remind me of why I do it.
IBM also gave me the opportunity to do a similar volunteer experience through the Corporate Services Corp program. 14 IBMers from all over the globe came to the Philippines and dedicated a month to work on a project that has a direct impact on the local community. Our group was assigned to the Department of Science and Technology tasked to work on the Knowledge Management system. This system was designed to provide knowledge and information directly to the Filipino people, while the other projects involved assisting with Food and Nutrition Research, and the STARBOOKS digital kiosks containing thousands of digitized science and technology resources aimed to inspire students who don’t have access to the internet. Those four weeks where some of the most exciting, rewarding, amazing experiences one can have. Working with diverse minds in a compressed time frame and driving to get to an outcome that will have a direct impact on the community — it was all unbelievably rewarding.
These may be the outcomes that I love, but these are not things that drive me. I truly believe that the driving force behind volunteering is not necessarily the results of the actions, nor the success stories, it’s the joy of working with like-minded people with a similar drive and passion to make an impact.
I’m happy that I work in a company that encourages me to volunteer. It enables me to be effective in what I do, while giving me the skills and opportunities to be able to hand those situations like the ones above. It also gives me the community to remain in contact with those with a similar like-minded approach. Most importantly, it has enabled me to always find the time to think and innovate.
Cheers to all those who volunteer and to organizations like IBM who enable it.
Reflection time over, and I go back to my computer…
It’s 2:30am… Found the error! As expected I had messed up a command, my select statement had the wrong column name (why on earth had I called the column that, I don’t understand). The system is ready to roll and I may get three hours sleep tonight!
About the Author
James Cleaver has been working for IBM for over 20 years, starting as deskside support, IT specialist and then as an IT Architect. As a master Inventor James is also involved in the IBM patenting process and in mentoring others to invent as well.
When not at work, James can be found telling dad jokes to his children, listening to science podcasts, volunteering and assisting with the Young Scientist Awards in NSW Australia, and cooking to relax!