Clubbing Together

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Clubs organized and run by students with the support of their university may be a relatively foreign concept in Germany. Yet KLU student initiative UniKonnect is ably demonstrating their value by organizing events that allow students to network with industry professionals and provide insights into their working worlds.

When Daniela Salas joined the KLU in 2016 to start her MSc in Global Logistics and Supply Chain Management degree, she saw an opportunity.

“When I first came to the KLU I was very excited about doing my masters and growing my career,” the native of Bogotá, Colombia explains. “I was part of a student club at California State University, Long Beach in the United States which built relationships between companies and the university itself for students. It was all organized by students and I thought ‘Well maybe we can do something like that’, so I talked to a couple of people from my class.”

While clubs organized and run by students yet supported by universities financially and with the help of faculty staff is well-established in the US – CSULB, for instance, has over 300 – the concept is less common in Germany.

“People wanted to know why we needed such a club, what we were actually doing, and whether it was just for students”, the 27-year-old says.

Convincing an initial group of five founding members to join the club was easy, however, says Daniela, as they all quickly recognized the value of developing further relationships between the university and its students and external organizations.

Launched in February 2018, UniKonnect’s initial focus was on organizing speaker sessions and outings for students. “For the speaker sessions we try to bring a professional to the school to do a presentation and give students an opportunity to network with that person,” explains Daniela, who is also the club’s president.

The sessions, which the club tries to hold twice a month, follow a twenty-minute presentation, a twenty-minute discussion, and twenty minutes of networking with drinks and food format.

“We’ve had speakers from different industries including a lady from FabLab, and people from Kühne & Nagel, Google, and Hermes” says Daniela. “The topics are very open and it’s about talking about a project or how they develop their professional careers or their experiences.”

The success of the speaking events has resulted in increased support for the club from KLU. „Student initiatives as engaged as UniKonnect are the best thing that can happen to a university!“ says Anne Rehmet, Head of Career Development and Alumni Relations at KLU. “The work of UniKonnect is a great addition to what we offer our students. Events run by students for students cater closely to their expectations. They are not only a great way for members to network, but also to further develop a variety of soft skills.”

In addition to its speaker sessions, UniKonnect also organizes once-a-month student outings to companies and organizations, both of which are subsidized by the university.

In the club’s first year, a group of students travelled to Berlin to visit the Fraunhofer research institute and also did a tour of an old Stasi prison. “It was very well-regarded, especially by the international students because a lot of them rarely get out of Hamburg,” explains UniKonnect vice-president and MSc classmate Norman Wuest. Trips closer to home, meanwhile, have included excursions to Nivea producer Beiersdorf and to the Ratsherrn brewery in Hamburg.

In April this year, UniKonnect ventured into yet another event format: The club ran its first panel discussion. Addressing the topic of The Logistics of Refugee Migration, the discussion involved a panel of three external speakers from Doctors Without Borders, Plan International, and the City of Hamburg, as well as KLU Professor Maria Besiou.

The two-hour long event was well received. “I talked to the panelists and I have to say that they really enjoyed it,” says Daniela. “The mood was also very positive amongst the students that attended. They got to talk to the panelists and ask questions afterwards. It added a lot of value because the panelists were able to share different points of view on humanitarian logistics.”

Given the success of the event, further panel discussions are being planned by UniKonnect. “A lot of professors are super busy, but are very willing to help,” explains Daniela. “Maria, for example, offered to help us with the topic, the contacts and the questions. From our side, we were able to connect to the students and help with the logistics.

Beyond organizing events and outings, Daniela and Norman say the club is pursuing the idea of developing a mentoring program for students, which could see KLU alumni supporting students with advice and guidance about career paths.

Whatever happens, Daniela says it’s important that UniKonnect, whose members perform specific roles focusing on either speaking sessions, excursions or marketing, continues to be run by students. “This group and the events we organize come from students. It’s really motivational - no one telling us what to do, bringing a new idea into the school from the students’ side. That’s what we want for the future and now that we are getting more support, I hope that we will grow.”