It's not just games at 'Olympics U.'
A record number of student volunteers keep preparations humming as Sydney's summer Games draw closer
For most people, the Olympics won't start until the TV cameras are trained on the torch as it blazes its way into Sydney Sept. 15. But the preparations have long been under way - and athletes vying for a spot on their national team aren't the only ones breaking records. Australian university students are seizing upon the Games' real-life opportunities in unprecedented numbers.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Programming computers, interviewing volunteers, and designing publications are just some of the tasks they're taking on. As members of the Olympic News Service, students were poolside at the May swim trials, elbowing in with professional journalists to get quotes from Australia's dripping darlings.
It is all part of a pioneering venture in truly integrating the
academic community into the Olympics. And recruiters and educators alike are hoping that students' enthusiasm and high profile will significantly boost the importance of volunteerism in a country where that tradition is relatively weak.
"We feel that by involving the students, it's a three-way win," says Brendan Lynch, manager of recruitment for the Olympics and Paralympics (the competition among disabled athletes that runs Oct. 18-29). "It's great for us to be getting good, committed volunteers. It's good for the universities - providing real-life practical work for [students], which is always a challenge. And of course, it's great for the students to be a part of something as big and far-reaching as the Olympic Games."
The Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) is filling 6,000 of the estimated 50,000 volunteer slots with students.
The relationships forged with universities range from simple to comprehensive: Schools have opened their doors to SOCOG recruiters looking for people with skills in such areas as technology and languages. A number have offered academic or work-experience credit, and a few have gone so far as to develop courses specifically linked to the Games.
Many of the young people who have worked directly with Mr. Lynch's operation come from the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). Its modern, urban campus is just around the corner from SOCOG headquarters, and its involvement has been just as close. A UTS course, "Volunteer Recruitment for Major Events," evolved through a collaboration between management professors, university administrators, and a SOCOG official who envisioned having students interview the throngs of potential volunteers.
The 140 students who signed on broke the record for enrollment in an elective when it was first offered in March last year, says Keri Spooner, co-founder of the course and a senior lecturer at the UTS School of Management. Word spread quickly among students eager to get hands-on experience.
After a brief, intensive training period, the students were required to do 60 hours of interviewing - screening people for everything from driving shuttles to answering phones.
From make-believe to the real thing
"It was the most worthwhile thing I've ever done," says Bridget O'Neill, now in her second year of a three-year bachelor's degree in business. She enjoyed it so much that she did 84 hours of interviewing, and tracked what she learned through an analytical journal-writing assignment.
"It gave me the most unbelievable skills in communication, in talking to people face to face, finding out different people's ideas on things - just the skills of interviewing," she says.
Yash Gandhi smiles in agreement. He's a third-year business major from Bombay who was also among the first group to take the class (which will be offered each semester, even when the Olympics close up shop). "At Uni, you're doing presentations and make-believe things," he says. "This is real life. You're out there, this is what you will do in the future."
The students saw themselves progress from working in pairs and disguising their nervousness to knowing the questions by heart and feeling at ease with anyone who walked through the door.
Not all the interviewees were as comfortable. "Some people found it interesting to be interviewed by someone who they felt was a lot younger than they were expecting," Lynch says. "We tried to prepare the students for that in the training. I guess 90 percent of the comment was favorable."