My Resources

Running a Student Society as a Disabled Student

  September 5, 2016   

A guest blog from Abdirahim Ismail, Graduate

My final Academic Year began by holding the role of President of Level Up club, now named Enable, a student society run by and for disabled students at Coventry University.

I set it up in my second year to develop my own skills and gain experience valued by employers. Moreover, studying a degree in Enterprise & Entrepreneurship encouraged setting up your own business, however, I felt that I lacked the skills to launch a start-up venture. This was by in large effected by my ADHD symptoms; and my condition posed me significant challenges throughout my education.

As a response, I re-assessed my own objectives and opportunities and decided that running a student society would be a more practical and more accessible way to meet these goals. I have found re-assessing your own objectives and the opportunities available to you to be a helpful career management tool when you have a disability.

Activities & Outcomes

One activity I carried out was chairing and leading meetings. This is similar to management at the strategic level in a business. Our core service was a weekly social and a strategic objective was increasing attendance and membership. I drew up a checklist every week of our objectives and plans, and items on this list were discussed such as the development of our marketing activity. Discussions involved brainstorming ideas and critically evaluating them based on their feasibility and requirements. The result of this activity was that it developed and provided evidence of my self-management, team-working and leadership skills.

Marketing was another activity I engaged in. I led the committee’s promotional activities at the Fresher’s and Re-Fresher’s fair at the Student Union. I also created marketing material such as leaflets and a design for the stall. The results of these efforts were a small increase in membership and attendance. The personal benefit of these activities was the development of my consumer awareness skills.

At the end of our final year, in recognition of our work, we received an Equality & Diversity award from the Vice Chancellor of the University commending us on our efforts and contributions to the University.

Personal Development

Despite our successes, I did face some challenges. I felt that I did not have the time management or organisational skills required to meet my own objectives and those of the society. Furthermore, there were concerns about fulfilling my role as President as well as interacting with students and even leading them. At the time I believed I did not have the capabilities but I enhanced my skill set greatly by working on my time management and organisation skills. As a result, I felt confident in meeting our objectives and carrying out my responsibilities., and gained insight into the requirements of customer acquisition, marketing and growth.

Throughout the process I learned that having overly ambitious goals is counterproductive as the society does not have the capabilities, time or resources to implement them. It is important not to over commit as it risks not meeting objectives. A balanced assessment of the willingness and capabilities of the committee was needed.

Through my experience of managing the society I saw an improvement in the following skills.

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Time management and Organisation
  • Problem Solving
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Team working
  • Cultural Awareness - especially pertaining to the many types of Disabilities.
  • Customer Awareness

Benefits

Research has shown that running a Student Society produces a number of benefits. The Confederation of British Industries (CBI) and National Union of Students (2011) explain that managing a society develop skills “in leadership, communication, finance, management, dealing with a diverse range of stakeholders, project management and delivery”.

A survey on the perception of Scottish Employers found that 49% believed involvement in student societies increased skills “definitely” or “significantly so”. Another 47% believed it did so to “some extent” (National Union of Students 2012). Even more exciting are the findings of Archer and Davison (2008), who revealed that soft skills such as team work and communication hold more weight in Recruitment than most hard skills like IT or even a degree subject.

Top Tips for Running a Student Society

  1. Conduct a personal SWOT analysis and organisational SWOT to understand your own capabilities and limitations, the opportunities and threats.
  2. Reassess your objectives and opportunities if things become difficult.
  3. Get a second or third opinion from Student Union staff and a disability advisor. Our committee received useful advice from a disability advisor at our university’s Disability Office.
  4. Try enlisting the help of student volunteers. This could be done by creating official committee roles. You could also market these roles as volunteering to increase engagement.

The accompanying image does not show the author.