Peer Mentoring to engage students and support transition to Higher Education

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In this case study, Rahema Nadeem, work placement student in the Learning Development Group at the Business School, writes about coordinating and developing different peer mentoring schemes.

Background
Peer mentoring is an excellent way to engage new students and make them feel comfortable in a university environment. In 2014, there were only two peer mentoring schemes in the University of Huddersfield Business School: the Accountancy & Finance PALS (Peer Assisted Learning Scheme) and Business Management Mentors. Both of these schemes evolved from different backgrounds and have extremely different methods of implementation When I started my placement in the September of 2015, I was given the task of looking after the School’s peer mentoring schemes in terms of monitoring them, thinking of ways to improve them and focussing on where support might be needed to introduce new schemes.

Professor Caroline Elliott, my supervisor, asked me set up a pilot peer mentoring scheme for the BSc Economics’ first year students. The main idea was for the second year students to become peer mentors for the first years and assist them with basic academic skills such as presentations or locating university services. I spoke to Jane Tobbell, who is supporting the development of peer mentoring strategically across the University, and she provided me with the material needed to train the mentors.

Peer Mentoring training
Initially, Caroline gave me the names of second-year students who had shown interested in becoming peer mentors. We had five potential peer mentors attend training which consisted of making them aware of the extent of their responsibility as well as an ethics exercise to demonstrate at what point the mentors would need to involve me. I also explained the benefits of peer mentoring to the mentors; the main motivation for them is that they gain valuable experience that can enhance their employability as well as make their CVs stronger. Following the training, I got the list for first year students and allocated each mentor their mentees.

Supporting transition into Higher Education
The main idea behind starting this scheme was to make sure that first year students had a helping hand in figuring out their university life. I remember being a first year and not having guidance when I needed it regarding University services. University is a completely new world for students and many can learn about it more effectively from someone who has been in their situation quite recently.

A problem I observed while I was a peer mentor in my second year was the lack of communication between the mentors and the mentees. This time I resolved to make sure that this would not be a problem. In the training I made sure that this point was explicitly highlighted for the mentors. I gave them the idea of meeting their mentees bi-monthly. Caroline was happy with this arrangement and told me that she would encourage her first-years to meet regularly with their mentors.

Developing social engagement
Another peer mentoring scheme started in the Business School this year focused more on the social aspects of student life. The International Learning Development Office (ILDO) came to me with an issue: the top-up students were not coming out of their comfort zones and not progressing in their language skills. This included mostly Chinese students who were here for a year only. The department envisioned a peer mentoring scheme to enable these students to get involved in activities around campus. I suggested that we collaborate with the Students’ Union (SU) and get those students involved in the many societies that are operating in the SU. The ILDO liked this idea so I arranged a presentation on the societies with Sabrina Hussein, the VP Education and Jordan Aird, VP Student Activities. They gave a presentation on the societies available in the SU and encouraged the students to participate in the upcoming Give-It-A-Go Week. The idea behind this was to make sure that the top-up students know what exactly is happening in the university and if they have something of a particular interest they can find the relevant society, make new friends and improve their communication skills before returning to their home countries.

Communication and coordination
The main challenge in starting the peer mentoring scheme was coordinating all the parties involved. It was quite tough to find a time slot when the mentors and mentees were both free. I also found communicating effectively with the individuals involved was a difficult task as e-mails often go unread.

The next step is to develop a peer mentoring scheme for the Hospitality & Logistics department. There is currently a pilot scheme going on that focuses on one-to-one peer mentoring on a need-basis. Following on there will be other departments piloting schemes such as the Law School.

The aim will be to have peer mentoring available to all students by 2018 and thus align with the University Teaching and Learning Strategy enabling strand of achieving ‘A Safe, Secure and Challenging Environment’.

Posted by Kathrine Jensen, Research Assistant, Teaching and Learning Institute. The Teaching and Learning Institute coordinates, evaluates and disseminates inspiring and innovative teaching and learning. Follow TALI on Twitter

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Supporting and connecting colleagues to develop inspiring and innovative teaching and learning
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