What is Making Connections?
Links refugee background students with academics in a one-to-one mentoring relationship
Increases students’ sense of connection and belonging to university
Develops students’ writing skills and knowledge of university services
Why Does It Matter?
Many refugees and people seeking asylum are keen to study at university to enable pathways to meaningful work, but face barriers in navigating the university system. Students can be intimidated by the impersonal nature of accessing online information about their courses and prefer personal contact.
In 2018, the Academics for Refugees network at Macquarie University, pioneered a pilot mentoring program called Making Connections in collaboration with the Learning Skills Unit, and the Widening Participation Unit. We linked 18 mentees with a supportive academic mentor from their faculty to help students navigate the complexities of university life and feel more at home at university. After our successful pilot, this program has now received further funding for 2019.
Who Are We?
The program’s steering committee consists of senior academics, a refugee background student, a PhD student and staff from Library Learning Skills and the Widening Participation unit.
A distinguishing feature of the program is that it involves academics as mentors. An enthusiastic response from a diverse range of academics resulted in over 115 expressions of interest in becoming a mentor, many Professors and Associate Professors, representing most faculties.
How Does It Work?
The program goes beyond a quick match and a short-term relationship. It involves training mentors and mentees, clear boundaries, a Code of Conduct, careful linking, feedback and ongoing support of both mentors and mentees. Currently, mentoring matches meet at least monthly for one hour. Mentors and mentees give feedback through regular “debriefs” where mentors and mentees separately meet as a group with the coordinators.
Evaluation is an integral component to this program, and we gather feedback from mentees and mentors through interviews, surveys and debriefs. Our initial evaluation documented outstanding outcomes, ranging from practical (e.g., paid internships with industry) to intangible (e.g., a previously unknown level of comfort at university).
The program has been presented at the 2019 Refugee Alternatives Conference in Adelaide and our training and other materials shared to support the development of similar schemes. In our next phase, we seek to formally publish our program to further expand the benefits to other institutions.
As a low-cost innovative program, we hope Making Connections will continue to improve and be taken up by other universities in Australia and elsewhere.
For further information, please feel free to contact the Making Connections team at firstname.lastname@example.org