interviewer Matisse Chambers
interviewee Dinuk Meregngna Nanayakkara
The University of South Australia Student Volunteer of the Year Award is an important title awarded to a student that has made a significant contribution to the wider community and campus life through their volunteering commitments. We sat down with the 2021 recipient Dinuk Hasantha Nanayakkara about his journey leading up to receiving the award and his overall university experience.
Introduce yourself! What did you study at UniSA? Tell us about postgraduate life and anything else you would like readers to know about you!
I arrived in Adelaide as an international student to pursue a Master of Information Technology (Enterprise Management) in 2019. I started volunteering and building up my network from the first semester; I probably did that because I’m quite an extroverted person.
It wasn’t easy learning a completely new area of study, as I come from a business background. However, my university life has been a wonderful journey, filled with many ups and downs.
What extracurricular activities did you participate in?
I participated in TEDx UniSA as a committee member in 2020/2021 and as an event manager of the Oxfam on Campus club. I also got elected as the Postgraduate Student Representative, of USASA, for the year 2021, and I represented USASA on the UniSA Council as a student member.
What volunteering experience did you have throughout your degree, both in and outside of uni?
I started by volunteering with USASA and eagerly wanted to complete the UniSA + Award as soon as possible. I participated in many volunteering programs at UniSA, which included Study Help PALS, G’day Mates, BUPA UniSA Student Ambassador, Responsible Party Ambassador (currently discontinued), UniMentor and TEDx UniSA.
I was eager to explore different cultures and meet new people, and so I volunteered with Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Film Festival and for an Adelaide Fringe Artist, as a Front of House volunteer. I also volunteered as a Digital Literacy Tutor at the Catalyst Foundation, where we assisted old adults in developing their digital literacy skills.
I also took part in the Adelaide Sri Lanka Student Society as a Committee member, where I made many fellow Sri Lankan friends.
Why are you passionate about volunteering?
Volunteering makes me feel enlightened and happy, as I like helping and meeting new people; networking is my forte. I am proud of the person who I have become today, and volunteering significantly contributed to it.
What advice would you give students wanting to participate in more volunteering opportunities?
Don’t wait until the opportunity knocks on your door, as there are many sources and mediums to find volunteering opportunities in South Australia. UniSA has a dedicated a portal to help students seek volunteering opportunities across South Australia.
Also, be mindful to balance your studies and extra-curricular activities, as it could take a toll on your mental health.
Your mental health always comes First!
Are you still volunteering in your postgraduate life?
I recently graduated and have been volunteering outside the university because volunteering has become quite a habit now. I continued to volunteer with the Adelaide Festival and volunteered for the Kodomo No Hi Japanese Festival for the first time this year. I am also a member of the South Australian Branch Executive Committee, and the Australian Computer Society, which is also a volunteer position.
What skills have you gained from your volunteering experience and why would you encourage others to do it?
I have gained many skills and developed existing skills through volunteering over the period of two years, while at UniSA. My people skills or interpersonal skills were drastically developed; it increased my confidence to face unexpected situations in life. Also, I was able to further develop my leadership skills and emotional intelligence.
The best part is that you get to exercise such skills in practical situations, which will eventually enhance your problem-solving skills as well. And, overall, you will improve your level of confidence while building a solid network.
If you have one, what has been your most favourite volunteering experience?
Volunteering at the UniSA and Vinnies Community Sleepout was one of the best experiences. It was on a day I was feeling extremely low and almost dropped a course, as I couldn’t cope with the imbalance of my emotions; but, experiencing the life of a homeless person in the month of August, spending a cold and windy night in a sleeping bag… it was surely an unforgettable experience.
How did it feel receiving the award?
It came out as a surprise, as I didn’t know that I had won until I saw the UniSA Leadership Awards brochure when I attended the ceremony. I indeed felt great about my accomplishments and was honoured to have received the award. I would like to thank all the people who have helped me during this journey.