Celebrating volunteers in our community

Monday 3 June 2024


2024 is the 40th anniversary of Volunteers’ Week which celebrates the amazing contributions volunteers make to communities across the UK and beyond. Volunteers in the St Catharine’s community give generous amounts of their time to a range of charitable causes close to their hearts. To coincide with this year’s celebrations (3–9 June), we wanted to thank the incredible volunteers who support the charitable objectives of St Catharine’s, particularly members of our Junior Combination Room (JCR) Committee, Middle Combination Room (MCR) Committee and Investments Committee.

Sir John Benger (1979, English), Master of St Catharine’s, reflected:

“It’s impossible to overstate the valuable contributions made by volunteers to our activities at St Catharine’s: from alumni helping us to manage our investments ethically and effectively, to the student representatives on our JCR and MCR Committees. These volunteers take so much care to do the right thing for the College as a close-knit and thriving community and also as a charity with obligations to wider society. On behalf of everyone at St Catharine’s, thank you from the bottom of my heart to all our volunteers for their dedication and service.”

JCR & MCR Committees

Of the roughly 1,000 people who live, work and study at St Catharine’s, our students make up by far the biggest group (80%). Upon admission, undergraduates become members of the JCR and are represented by the JCR Committee. Likewise, postgraduate students become members of the MCR and are represented by the MCR Committee. 

Both committees are entirely made up of students who have chosen to take on additional responsibilities on a voluntary basis alongside their studies and other commitments, for the benefit of the wider College community. The remit of both committees includes promoting the interests of their section of the student body at St Catharine’s, acting as a channel of communication between these students and the College, and encouraging student societies, sports and social activities. Each committee meets regularly throughout the year and positions are filled by election. All current students are eligible to stand and vote: undergraduates for JCR elections and postgraduates for MCR elections.

The current JCR committee consists of 26 undergraduates and their meetings are generally chaired by the JCR President.

Poppy Jo Lee (a second-year HSPS undergraduate), JCR President 2023–24, commented:

“As soon as I knew what the JCR Committee was, I wanted to be a part of it right from Freshers’ Week when the JCR reps were running welcome events. I stood as Vice President in the Lent Term 2023 elections because I wanted to work with College and help student voices be heard. I enjoyed my role so much that the following year I decided to throw my hat in the ring for President. Now I am over half-way through my term in office, and I am so grateful to the other student volunteers on the Committee both past and present who commit so much time and energy giving back to the College community.”

St Catharine's College JCR Committee
The current JCR Committee

The current MCR committee is made up of 18 postgraduates. The committee is led by two co-presidents, Sam Ryan (an Astronomy PhD student) and Praharsh Babu (a final-year medical student), who added:

“The MCR Committee delivers a huge range of activities on a voluntary basis, often in collaboration with the College’s other committees and working groups, and our counterparts on the JCR Committee. Ultimately these activities and the MCR space itself provide important moments of respite away from everyone’s postgraduate studies. We have both really enjoyed our time on the Committee and this is in largely down to all the other volunteers on the Committee, who have been so committed to their duties and often stepped in help each other out.”

Investments Committee

Reporting directly to the College’s Trustees (Governing Body), this Committee’s responsibilities include monitoring and reporting on the College’s investment portfolio, critically appraising the portfolio and seeking new investment ideas, and making recommendations to ensure the College’s Investment Policy reflects our community’s needs. Since 2020, the Investment Policy has made Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) matters a priority – including working to address climate change as one of the biggest challenges that humanity has ever faced.

The Committee meets three times a year and currently comprises the Master (or a nominated deputy), the Bursar, a committee secretary, a further six Official and Professorial Fellows, and up to three external members. Since October 2019, these external members have been Andy Connell (1990, Land Economy), Meenal Devani (1994, Economics) and Neil Ostrer (1978, History), who have all contributed their expertise on a voluntary basis.

Neil said, “I volunteered to join the Investment Committee at Catz as I wanted to give back something to a College that had served me so well and also because I have skills that would be useful having spent a career in institutional investment management. I have interacted with many investment committees over the years, mostly in the US, but they do not normally have a distinguished group of academics at their core which makes for interesting discussions – and the ESG emphasis at St Catharine’s is much greater than in the US. I have however found the other committee members very open minded and welcoming of outside volunteers.”

Meenal and Andy were also in a similar position of wanting to give back something to the College:

Andy commented, “My expertise is focused on setting strategy and building portfolios that are tailored to an asset owner's needs. In response to the College’s changing needs, I assisted the Investments Committee in refreshing the asset mix and streamlining the managers we use. Being a part of the Committee has helped me professionally because I now have a better understanding of the challenges faced by asset owners. Mostly though, it has been such a pleasure to feel part of the College again, to meet such talented and dedicated people whilst personally contributing to the financial health of such a wonderful institution.”

Meenal added, “I have benefited enormously from my time at St Catharine’s and was excited about the opportunity to give back to the College. Joining the Investments Committee was an especially attractive way of doing so as my day job is investing in property and a significant proportion of the College’s endowment is in this asset class so it felt like a role where I could be most helpful. It has been a real pleasure to work with and learn from such an incredibly talented group of individuals who bring a valuable diversity of thinking to investing – I invariably come away from each meeting with so many great insights.”