Last week saw the launch of a pilot program to link students from refugee backgrounds with a supportive academic to help navigate the complexities of university life and make the most of the opportunity to study at MQ. An initiative of the MQ node of the Academics for Refugees network in collaboration with the Widening Participation Unit and the Learning Skills Unit staff in the Library, Making Connections is funded by a successful bid for a LEAP Partnership Engagement Grant.

“The response to our request for Expressions of Interest for mentors was amazing” says Associate Professor Anina Rich (Cognitive Science). One of the leaders of the program and co-convenor of Academics for Refugees @ MQ (with Dr Eve Vincent, Anthropology) said

We had more than 100 people, across all the faculties, sign up to support our cohort of refugee background students. This shows the dedication, passion, and commitment of MQ academics to support students, particularly those who might face additional hurdles to thriving at university.

Supportive responses came also from professional staff and graduate students across the University.

The initial pilot program will involve regular informal meetings between mentor and mentee, who have been paired based on their Department and Faculty, and will run until the end of Session 2. The goal is to establish long-term mentoring relationships, and for the program to extend and expand in the future. Building on the services provided by the Widening Participation Unit and the Library, the academic mentor will provide the student with a contact point and personalised connection within the often-intimidating university experience. “I’m looking forward to the mentoring sessions!” says one of students. And the learning is not all one way,

It will be great to learn about different cultures, perspectives, and to make a difference to an individual student who has had challenges I have not been faced with.

says Associate Professor Amanda Wise (Faculty of Arts). Professor Sean Brawley (Pro-Vice Chancellor Programs and Pathways), speaking at the program launch said “It’s exciting to see how quickly this program has been actioned. The partnerships formed in Making Connections will assist in providing the necessary support and actively eliminate barriers to successful educational experiences for refugee background students.”

Learning Advisors Dr Robyn Westcott, Carol Floyd and Brenda Lee from the Learning Skills unit of the Library have been enthusiastic collaborators in the development of this program. Mentees will have access to individual writing support through the Learning Skills WriteWISE program.

Training and debriefing will be provided to mentors and mentees by Phillipa Bellmore and Rifaie Tammas, who both have extensive experience in this area, and evaluation of the program will be led by Associate Professor Amanda Wise (Sociology). This pilot is the first step in developing a best-practice model to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The wonderful response from the MQ community shows the depth of our collective commitment to an inclusive institution that welcomes and supports students from all backgrounds.

If you would like to engage /support students from equity backgrounds, MQ’s Widening Participation Unit would love to hear from you (sonal.singh@mq.edu.au). If you would like to join the Academics for Refugees @ MQ network mailing list to help develop more initiatives, please email eve.vincent@mq.edu.au.

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Posted by Sonal Singh

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