Monday, 9 October 2017

Could the University's peer mentoring scheme help you?

I can still recall the first day I arrived at the University of Hertfordshire. I was a bundle of nervous and excited energy as I walked into Watton Hall and saw my room for the first time. Once I had bid farewell to my parents, who had left me to unpack my life’s belongings into one small room, I began setting up my new home. Left alone with my thoughts as I unpacked, an overwhelming feeling of anxiousness creeped over me. What if my flatmates didn’t like me? What if I didn’t make any friends on my course? What if I didn’t make any friends at all? Despite my reservations about my ability to morph into a social butterfly, I skipped to my first lecture confident that I would at least excel in my studies. Or so I thought. 

Instead I spent countless hours over the next few weeks with my head in my hands, despairing over what the phrase ‘critically analyse’ meant. Around me the library buzzed with the sound of students furiously typing, while I desperately tried to summon words to the blank page before me. As a self-proclaimed introvert, I obsessively worried over the social side of University, but it never occurred to me that I might find the academic side just as difficult.

I am not the only one to have doubts. According to a study by Aston University, many students entering their first year of university find the academic shift between studying at school/college and university challenging. With an increasing number of students struggling to adjust, universities are looking at ways to make the transition easier for them. To help combat this issue, the University of Hertfordshire has implemented a peer mentoring scheme.

What is peer mentoring?

The peer mentoring scheme at the University of Hertfordshire and for Humanities students such as you offers students, who require support, the chance for one-to-one mentoring with a fellow student. Mentors are typically second or third year students, who act in an advisory capacity, helping mentees activate their skills and support them in developing new ones.

“Students tend to feel more comfortable speaking with a fellow student rather than a lecturer,” says Graça Martins, the University of Hertfordshire’s Student Engagement and Peer Mentoring Coordinator, and it easy to understand why. Student mentors are more likely to have experienced similar struggles to their mentees and have found ways to cope with the demands of university life.

Despite helping students achieve higher grades and adjust to University life, there are still students who shy away from joining the scheme. Graça tells us that we all need support every now and again.

How does it work?

Think of mentoring as a tool, just like a book from a library, it has the potential to equip you with the skills required to succeed at University. Students are given the opportunity to sign up to the scheme as a mentee, or if they are in their second or third year, a mentor. All mentors are required to meet a certain criteria and complete training sessions, before they are matched with a mentee.

As a mentee, the ball is in your court. You are given the opportunity to pick your preferred mentor from a list that details the course and interests of potential mentors. Based on your needs, you can choose who will be best suited to support you.

Not only does mentoring help students with academic study, it also improves their communication skills. It’s a two-way street. In order for mentees and mentors to get the most from the experience, there needs to be a mutual agreement about what their needs are. A mentor can’t help you, if you don’t tell them what you need guidance on.

Sabahat Malik joined the peer mentoring scheme in her first year, after struggling with referencing. “I had a really good relationship with my mentor,” says Sabahat. “They not only told me where I had gone wrong, they showed me and gave me advice on how to improve.”

Everyone’s needs are different and mentees can choose how frequently they wish to work with their mentor. “I worked with my mentor more frequently when deadlines were looming. They looked over my essay structure, referencing and proof-read my work,” she adds. Sabahat, now a final year student, is using her experiences as a mentee to help others and has become a mentor on the scheme.

Case Study

Meet Alexandra Delasalle, a Primary School Education Student, who joined the peer mentoring scheme in her first year at the University of Hertfordshire.

“During my first year, I struggled with the jump from A-Level to University. The assignments were a lot different from those that I had completed at A-Level and I found it difficult to understand what was being asked of me.

“I chose a mentor who also studied Primary School Education and they helped me understand that I had all of the information, I just needed to approach the assignment in a different way. With their help, I learned what was needed to meet the criteria for my assignments and achieve a good grade.

“Not only did my mentor help me with my assignments, they also answered any questions I had about placements. It was reassuring to know that I had someone I could go to with questions.

“Mentoring completely transformed my grades – I went from getting 2.2s in my first year to achieving firsts and high 2:1s in my final year assignments.

“I would definitely recommend joining the peer mentoring programme, especially if there are aspects of your assignments, or just university life in general, that you are uncertain of. It helps you understand what is required at university level and equips you with the tools you need to meet those requirements.”

The University of Hertfordshire’s peer mentoring scheme is a great way for students to access support and guidance, especially if they feel uncomfortable talking to their lecturer. Sadly, it was not available during my first year. If it had been, there is no doubt in my mind that a mentor would have saved me from a lot of sleepless nights and countless hours despairing in the library.

If you would like to find out more about peer mentoring or would like to sign up to the scheme, please contact Graça Martins:

Article by Katie Lonslow. Katie is an English Literature BA(Hons) graduate, and recently a Journalism and Media Communications (MA) graduate, who is ready to take on the world of Communications and PR. 

In the run up to, and on World Mental Health Day on the 10 October, the University of Hertfordshire is publishing a series of blog posts by alumni on how to manage your mental health at university. The blog posts in this series are also available in the magazine Fresh Start, which was distributed to Humanities students at the start of term.

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