From lively group app to online game night: the mentor project
The goal of the new mentor project is to help first-year students at the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs find their way in a university environment that has changed dramatically due to Covid-19. The project has been running since the beginning of this academic year. Two student mentors and a student tell us more about their experiences. 'You can ask anything, get practical advice and get to know each other despite not being able to see each other very often.'
The mentor project provides additional support to new students by student mentors who know their way around the university. The student mentors are there to help students get settled and are available to answer questions in an academic year that, thanks to corona, will be different from anything anyone could have ever imagined. Each student mentor is in charge of two groups of first-years and is always present during the weekly mentor hour. During the first block, they were able to physically meet at Campus The Hague, enabling students to get to know each other, the student mentor and the academic advisor. In the upcoming months these meetings are expected to mostly take place online.
The student mentor is not only tasked with fostering study skills and providing information regarding exams, studying and systems, they are also busy organising activities. 'So, it's not only about the academic skills, but also about the social aspect,' explains 21-year old Megan Elijzen. Apart from being a student mentor herself, she is also the coordinator for the Public Administration mentors. Megan was already working as a student assistant when she came across the vacancy for this job. 'It seemed like a really nice part-time job, it's a good way to stay connected with first-year students.'
Megan: ‘The main advantage is thats it's very easy for students to contact me’
Informal group chat
The communication between the mentors and the group usually takes place through WhatsApp. 'The group chat makes it easy to ask questions, it's all very informal. It's being used a lot, which I think is a good sign. You're more likely to ask a question in the group app than send an email to your teacher. The main advantage is that it's very easy for students to contact me,' explains Megan.
Something 18-year old Len-Marie Boele from Alblasserdam definitely agrees with. She is a first-year Public Administration student and very happy with the mentor programme. 'We have a very lively group app. Which is a good thing when you're stuck at home during corona. At least it provides some entertainment'. The practical side of the programme is what appeals to her most. 'Student mentor Megan is very easy to reach, you can ask anything. You get practical study advice, learn where you can find the summaries. Those are things you wouldn't really ask a teacher. You learn to find your way around, and despite not being able to see each other very often, you still get to know each other a bit more during the weekly mentor hour.
21-year old Rana Kuseyri is student mentor at LUC (Leiden University College). She has obtained her bachelor Liberal Arts and Sciences and is now studying Law. Rana became a student mentor because she had also been very active in the LUC community during her time there. 'During the first year, I was part of the Programme Council, afterwards I became the Student Member of the Programme Board. So I was already very involved with other students and helping them with all kinds of issues. I wanted to continue doing so, even after my diploma, but in a different way. It's been really nice to pass on all the things I've learned over the past three years to the first-years.
The added value of a student mentor is very obvious to Rana. 'When I just started at LUC I knew someone who was in the third year. It's ideal when you have an older someone to help you find your way. That this is now available for everyone through the mentor project is definitely an added value. Not only when it comes to matters involving your studies, but also when it comes to life on Campus, the building, the community. For instance, it's not easy to live in a building with 400 other students all of a sudden. It really helps to know someone who's already experienced it. To know that you're never alone. That there's always someone willing to help you.'
Not many activities
When Megan Elijzen started university, the mentor project did not exist yet. Looking back she wished it had. 'Especially if I'd have had to start during corona, like these first-years. You're hardly able go to the university, you don't know how things are done. I'd have also liked to be able to send an app a student who knows how everything works.' Len-Marie is very pleased she is able go to the campus in The Hague every now and then, but thinks it is a shame that there are not that many activities to get to know her fellow students in a different way. 'It is what it is, but hopefully things will change during the year', says the first-year student.
It goes without saying that the social activities are also meant to get to know each other, but this is another aspect where corona really challenges the improvisation skills of the student mentors. For instance, the planned small group excursion to Leiden including a visit to a museum with drinks afterwards: forget about it. Megan: 'Bars and restaurants are closed and travelling is discouraged, so we're not going to do it. What we're planning to do soon is still a secret, but it will be an online activity and the students will receive a little something at home. That's all I'm going to say right now.'
Rana: ‘I'm planning to schedule a weekly online coffee moment so at least we can 'see' each other’
Rana is also busy planning activities at LUC. She noticed that it is especially difficult for a tightknit community such as LUC to not be able to see each other. 'Everyone's isolated in his or her own studio. That's why I've organised an online game night this week and I'm planning to schedule a weekly online coffee moment so at least we can still 'see' each other.
Rana remains positive despite the pandemic and hopes to pass that on to her students. 'I encourage them to look out for each other as much as possible and point out that the situation we're in right now is abnormal for everyone. Together, we'll just have to try and make the most of it.' Kuseyri already has one recommendation for the project evaluation. 'It should definitely stay and I think it would be a good idea to involve the first-year students with the organisation.'
Tekst: Margriet van der Zee
The idea of 'cohorts' was launched by the crisis team 'Remote Teaching & Evaluation' back in May. Aim: The mentor and tutor system strives to provide new students with a small scale, safe setting within the massiveness of the first year, where they feel seen and heard. It also aims to introduce first-years with the university world, the programme and the city.
Facts and Figures
Funding for the project was made available after a revision of the 2021 Quality Agreements. Faculty Supervisor: Koen Caminada. Project Leaders Implementation: Lisette van Putten and Maya Vos. The number of recruited mentors was based on estimates of the number of students and size of the groups. BA Security Studies: 9 mentors, BA Public Administration: 10 mentors, BA LUC: 5 mentors, MA Crisis & Security Management: 4 mentors, MA Management of the Public Domain: 2 mentors, MA Public Administration: 3 mentors. Appointment from 1 September - 1 February.