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Warwick student selected for the Outstanding Student Contribution Awards (OSCA)

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Warwick student selected for the Outstanding Student Contribution Awards (OSCA)

Warwick Economics finalist, Aaron Lee (BSc, Economics, 2021), is one of the winners of the University's Outstanding Student Contribution Awards 2021 in recognition of his numerous achievements during his time at Warwick. The OSCAs recognise and celebrate the outstanding contributions of Warwick's students who not only excel academically, but also find the time to campaign for good causes, fundraise, start small businesses, and work with charities.

During the pandemic, Aaron founded LA Edge, the first integrated social consultancy and careers platform of its kind - an initiative which has been recognised by several prominent organisations. His platform provides pro bono career advice and peer support to disadvantaged individuals, redirecting them to situation-specific resources, both within Singapore and the UK. An impact-driven individual, Aaron has also found tremendous success in various leadership and mentorship roles on and off campus. He has graduated with a first-class honours degree and will be embarking on a career in investment banking.

We asked Aaron to tell us more about his recent achievements and here is what he said:

1. What is LA Edge and why you decided to set it up?

"LA Edge is the first integrated career services (LA Apply) cum social consultancy (LA Assist) platform of its kind in the world. LA Edge started as a passion project which sought to bridge the asymmetric information gap within the social welfare sector from which I had once benefited. Due to the lack of an aggregated platform for NGOs and welfare organisations, individuals who require help often do not know where to start looking. The Covid-19 pandemic gave tremendous impetus for LA Edge’s founding and provided an opportune moment for market entry during a period where more people were seeking support than ever before. Having been successful in securing several good internships and student committee roles, I had been approached by both friends and strangers for assistance in reviewing application material. I realised that starting a career services platform was not only an efficient and structured way to share my knowledge, but it was also complementing my non-profit work. LA Edge operates on a closed-loop revenue model where I channel profits generated from the former into the latter. This allows me to serve individuals across the socio-economic spectrum, whilst generating effective revenue."

2. Tell us a bit more about the social consultancy and career services platforms.

"LA Assist is a non-profit peer-support service which provides not only a listening ear, but also direction to situation-specific public and private welfare resources. Where appropriate, LA Apply career services will be extended pro-bono, to those deemed eligible.

Contrary to popular opinion, LA Assist does not cater only to those afflicted by adverse circumstances. Individuals who are looking to celebrate their achievements or simply seeking a sounding board are welcome too. Fun fact: LA Assist is partly inspired by Warwick Nightline!

LA Apply is a one stop, personalised career service which helps with career planning and job applications, for example CV creation and editing, interview coaching, and cover letter review services. Profits from LA Apply are funnelled into LA Assist which may be used to provide temporary relief to disadvantaged individuals, for instance in the form of food delivery vouchers."

3. Is this your first enterprise?

"No, but it is definitely the most successful one yet! Prior to enrolling at university, I had two online businesses. The first was a fashion store selling gaming and media related apparel (think Dota 2, Game of Thrones etc.) and I discontinued the business when I left for the UK. My other venture involved selling revision materials to high schoolers and providing general proofreading and editing services. The effort was not worth the pay, and I was receiving requests faster than I could clear them. I shut that operation down almost as quickly as it started.

I consider LA Edge an inflection point in my entrepreneurial journey. My previous ventures were hosted on online marketplaces and platforms; marketing then simply meant sharing links on my Facebook wall. With LA Edge, I had to take ownership of the entire business value chain. From aligning LA Edge’s strategic intent with its product portfolio, to sourcing for partnership opportunities; from embedding a payment ecosystem to learning about SEO marketing, I understood for the very first time why entrepreneurs do what they do."

4. What mentoring work were you involved in during your studies at Warwick?

"I volunteered as a senior undergraduate mentor for the Department of Economics, assisting with the integration of Economics first year students into University life. I also held mentor positions at Project Access and SEO London, providing prospective Warwick students UCAS application advice and assisting disadvantaged students with internship applications. I was also selected as the Economics course ambassador for the Singapore society where I provided both academic and general welfare advice to my Singaporean juniors, helping them maximise the international experience. Finally, as the business mentor for Warwick Incubator, I leveraged my entrepreneurial experiences to support the progress of the participating start-ups."

5. Why is mentoring important?

"Mentorship has at its core knowledge transfer from one individual to another. This includes both theoretical knowledge (subject-specific; ‘how to do this’) and what I term 'indigenous knowledge' (unwritten best-practices; ‘street’ knowledge). In my view, mentorship is not just important, but essential to thrive in any environment.

For the mentee, knowing the pitfalls and the best-practices of an organisation is non-negotiable when seeking success. Cultivating a good relationship with a mentor can also yield cascading benefits, since business is ultimately relationship-driven. The psychological benefits and the associated confidence boost from knowing that there is someone with a vested interest in your success cannot be understated.

For the mentor, mentorship is an excellent way to pay it forward. After all, what you now know you once learned from someone else. Mentoring someone, especially an individual from a disadvantaged background can go a long way in uplifting someone from their circumstances. The significance really hit home when my mentee from SEO London— which provides career assistance to students from low ethnic minority or low socioeconomic backgrounds—successfully landed an internship at a bulge bracket bank. Furthermore, mentorship can foster goodwill which can be advantageous to the mentor as the mentee advances up the hierarchy.

In my experience, the true value of mentorship is unlocked by cultivating a trusted, non-judgemental relationship where both parties can hold frank conversations and where constructive feedback can be dispensed. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about mentorship is that you are embedding a part of your legacy within another person, and that is truly special."

6. What are your hobbies beyond your studies?

"I consider myself someone with wide ranging interests. I enjoy sports, travelling, dance and simply hanging out with friends. I am always seeking out unique, fun and thrilling adventures to embark on. I’ve climbed Helvellyn on a whim, sat on UK’s fastest rollercoaster, watched five West End musicals in my first year and just recently watched a ballet for the first time. I dabble in day trading and am also a huge cinephile. I’m passionate about aviation and intend to take a private pilot’s license within the next two years. I love eating (sometimes too much) and have embarked on a quest to tick off the best restaurants around Europe."

7. What other student societies have you been involved in and which of these roles was the most rewarding?

"I have been involved in several clubs and societies on campus in various capacities. I was the junior executive member for the Warwick Consulting Society, the Finance and Sponsorship Officer for the Warwick Economics Summit (WES), Business Mentor for Warwick Incubator, captain of my society team for the Warwick Sport football league and a member of the Squash Club.

All these experiences have been rewarding in their own way, but if I had to pick one, it would be my stint in WES. Seeing the largest student-led Economics summit in Europe materialise from mere scribblings and PowerPoint slides was particularly satisfying. The summit was my first major achievement at University and my experiences in the society laid the foundation for my future leadership successes."

8. How would you describe your time at Warwick?

"Transformational. My time at Warwick was marked by many ‘firsts’. The first time snowboarding; the first time giving a lecture to a packed audience; the first time taking a road trip, amongst many other indelible memories. Studying abroad presented innumerable opportunities for personal development. Living in a foreign land is different from taking a vacation in one, especially in the UK—the nexus of Europe. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the myriad of different accents, the rhythms of the local jargon, but one eventually learns to distinguish. It is also easy to be overcome by the sheer demands of university life. You suddenly find yourself having to cook, to clean and to pay rent; to contend with the infamous trilemma of ‘studying, partying, sleeping’ - you can only pick two; to bash through the unforgiving jungles of spring week applications, of assessment centres; to deal with the realisation that adulthood is fast approaching, but one eventually learns to manage. Reflecting on my journey, I would like to think I’m a little wiser and a little worldlier than when I stepped onto English shores for the first time in my life, only three short years ago."

9. What advice would you give to those students who are starting their studies in October this year?

"Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. While this advice is applicable to all, it is especially important to international students, some of whom I observe hang out exclusively with peers of similar nationality. It is my firm belief that staying within the same familiar social bubble, defeats the purpose of an international education. Immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of cultures on campus; pick up a new sport; take road trips; apply for that executive position; make the first move. As the saying goes, 'you miss all the shots you don’t take'. Trust me, it’s really not that daunting once you try it. I promise, more often than not, you’ll end up pleasantly surprised!"

10. Any other things you wish to mention?

"I would like to dedicate this award to the passionate teaching Faculty, my amazing friends and above all, my supportive family without whom all of this would not have been possible. My three years at Warwick have strengthened my resolve to leave a positive legacy wherever I go, and have served as a timely reminder that the best is indeed yet to be."

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