Supporting Students from Refugee Backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students and Students from Pacific Backgrounds
Making Connections links academic mentors with students from refugee backgrounds. The program is a collaborative initiative born out of the desire and commitment by academics and staff at Macquarie University to support students from refugee backgrounds. The initiative was developed by the Academics for Refugees group at Macquarie University, in collaboration with the Widening Participation Unit and the Library’s Learning Skills Unit. It was funded by a LEAP Partnership Engagement Grant.
Piloted between August and December 2018, almost all mentoring relationships have continued into 2019. In the four-month pilot, the program paired 18 students with academics from their home faculty, and their department when possible. By collaborating with the Learning Skills Unit at Macquarie University Library, the program also offered at least three one-on-one consultations to provide help with academic writing for each participating student.
The program goes beyond a quick match and short-term relationship. It involves training mentors and mentees, setting clear boundaries, a Code of Conduct, careful matching of mentor and mentee, feedback and ongoing support of both mentors and mentees. Currently, mentors and students meet up at least monthly for one hour. The primary objective of this initiative is to support students from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds to navigate the complexities of university life and feel more connected at university through matching them with an academic mentor.
Preliminary evaluations of this program indicate its enormous benefits for both students and academics. For participating students, the program succeeded in creating bonds, fostering a sense of belonging to the University, increasing their confidence in mastering the complex university system, accessing its various services, and assisting them to succeed in their studies. Academic mentors reported enjoying and benefiting from the mentoring experience. The program increased awareness among academics about the challenges facing refugee students, which allowed them to reflect and change their pedagogical practices with students from all backgrounds.
The program was presented at the 2019 Refugee Alternatives Conference in Adelaide, where our training and other materials were shared to support the development of similar schemes. As a low-cost, innovative program, we hope Making Connections will continue to grow and be taken up by other universities in Australia and elsewhere. Members of the Making Connections team are in the process of working with Walanga Muru to develop a second mentoring scheme, Waranara, which will pair academic mentors with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Waranara is a Darug word that means ‘to seek’.
The program has also been a model adapted for students from Pacific backgrounds. Pasifika Family is a Macquarie student group that has participated in University events, such as O Week and Harmony Day, and had expressed interest in a mentoring program being established. A group of academics from Pacific backgrounds will be piloting a mentoring program that connects academics with small groups (2 – 3) of Pasifika students in Session 2, 2019.
The programs are funded by Commonwealth Government Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP).
For further information, please feel free to contact the Making Connections team the the Widening Participation Unit.