On the week where thousands of you lovely lot graduate, we’ll have a new feature every day profiling one of our ‘DS-DOers’ – students who have done something unforgettable with us during their time at university.
Not content with graduating with ‘just’ a degree, one selfless De Montfort Students’ Union (DSU) volunteer has helped countless others during her time at De Montfort University (DMU).
Nikita ‘Niki’ Somaiya, 23, is from Leicester and graduates from her Education Studies course this week. She’s spoken about how being involved with DSU’s MyUniPal scheme helped shape her time at uni – and will springboard her onto great things.
Niki got involved with MyUniPal on the first year that it ran – during her second year of study at DMU. “I stumbled across MyUniPal’s stall when going around the Freshers Fair with my new housemates,” she said. “That’s when I met Dan Tinkler, who was in charge of the project at the time.
“He told us about the project and that they were looking for mentors and mentees to take part. I thought it wasn’t for me – being a second year and because of my insecurities around having a disability – and wondering why and how I could be influential to other students.
“Despite my reservations Dan managed to convince me to attend the training session to get a feel for the project without the need for commitment. I enjoyed the training and decided to go to the mixer where new first years were looking for a mentor.
“I was still very nervous and didn’t feel I could make a difference but decided to embrace meeting the various first years. To my surprise by the end of the evening I had two students asking me to be their mentor.”
Niki also met DMU Chancellor Baroness Lawrence during her time at DMU.
MyUniPal is DSU’s own peer-mentoring scheme, where first-year student ‘mentees’ are paired with fellow student ‘mentors’ to help support them through adjusting to their new home at DMU through informal meetings and day trips.
But Niki wasn’t just a mentor – she also supported the project in her third-year as MyUniPal Accreditation and Development Frontrunner at DSU, and praises the scheme for giving her the confidence to apply.
“I was told about the opportunity towards the end of my second-year after mentoring two mentees.
“By this time my confidence had grown and when the job became official on the Frontrunners website, I decided to go ahead and apply after receiving positive feedback on my volunteering.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. Niki landed the role and worked towards helping MyUniPal’s national quality assurance accreditation.
She continued: “I had two major highlights during my time with MyUniPal. They included the opportunity to save one mentee from getting excluded from university due to financial reasons.
“I managed to get them to make a welfare appointment [with DSU’s free and impartial team of welfare advisers] and to explore the options which aided the student in staying at DMU.
“It was a very proud moment as I felt like I had truly made a difference.
“My second highlight was when I was working as a Frontrunner. The role was my first job and through the support and encouragement from the DSU team I was able to fulfil my role effectively.
“This positive experience has helped me to strive for goals I would not have considered previously – like applying for a Masters. I am also grateful for the other experiences such as the Vice-Chancellor’s societies dinner and an invitation to this year’s awards as a result of my contributions.”
Niki (centre) at her graduation ceremony earlier this week with former DSU DP Education Amie Chapman (left).
And Niki is in no doubt that being involved with your students’ union can be a life-changing endeavour.
“To anyone looking to get involved I would suggest that they get involved with as much volunteering as possible,” she said. “It opens a lot of doors and there really is a range of opportunities out there for everyone.
“The same can be said for sports teams and societies as you never know where these avenues can lead; from professional contacts to lifelong friendships and memories.
“I feel nervous about leaving DMU and DSU because both feel like I am leaving family and a community I am proud of.
“I will miss seeing the MyUniPal project evolve and working closely with the team. They have been incredibly supportive and a pleasure to work with.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the entire volunteering and societies team, especially Dan and Mike [Palmer, Peer Mentoring Coordinator] as if it weren’t for their continued support, guidance and belief in me I would not be as successful as I have been.
“I would also like to thank the team of welfare advisers at DSU as they too have supported my educational and personal journey at DMU.”
Niki now hopes to move away from her childhood home of Leicester and complete a Masters. She said she wants to get involved with her next university’s students’ union and is considering running for an executive officer position ‘as a result of my positive experience at DMU and DSU’.
And on that note, DSU would like to thank Niki for all of her hard work during her time at DMU and wish her every success for the future.
You can read more stories from our ‘DS-DOers’ series here.