A smooth transition - BCII mentoring and student wellbeing
It all started with a First Year Experience Grant in 2018, which included Dr. Jaqueline Melvold, Giedre Kligyte, Dr. Susanne Pratt and Dr. Paul Brown and it allowed one of our Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation (BCII) alumni, Tyler Key, to join the faculty and dedicate part of his time to improving the student experience. Tyler graduated from the inaugural BCII cohort in 2017 with a combined degree in BCII and Sport and Exercise Science and is now an Associate Lecturer in FTDi.
“University students are more likely to experience mental health difficulties,” Tyler explains, “so the transition experience into this environment has a big effect on the outcome of that.”
This year marks the second iteration of the FTDI’s cross-year BCII mentoring program. The program pairs final-year BCII students with incoming student groups who share core degrees, creating a way for new students to gain valuable insights and support as they navigate their first year at university.
“BCII is one of the most valuable things I’ve done,” said Joshua Clarkson, one of the 2019 BCII final-year mentors, “but that value was only demonstrated after a transition period and some significant discomfort and uncertainty.”
“The mentor program is really valuable as a means to mitigate some of this uncertainty and ensure more people are sticking around for the value.”
The BCII projects are so unlike anything students experience at school or even in their core degrees – having students that have gone through the process to share their tips, feeling and ideas is vital.
Joshua, and fellow final-years Sabrina Ulis and Nusardel Oshana, joined more than 20 students who volunteered as mentors this year. From helping facilitate orientation activities, running online support groups throughout the first semester, to giving up their holidays to assist new students at their first BCII winter school, it’s been an intense process – but one they were only too happy to be a part of.
“This degree is full of mystery and complexity, so I jumped at the opportunity to mentor new BCII students,” said Sabrina. “I know myself and many in my cohort struggled switching to the BCII mindset at first, so I wanted to ensure these first-years had someone to ask all their questions to, and hear valuable advice from, to ensure they didn’t feel the same confusion we did.”
“It was a bit of a no-brainer,” Nusardel agreed. “Since I’m BCII’s biggest cheerleader outside university, I jump at any chance to be more involved. I also felt like being a BCII mentor would be more valuable than mentoring in a different context as [BCII] is an environment where contribution isn’t just encouraged – it’s also fundamental to the way the entire course works.”
“Mentoring, whether it is formal or informal, is so crucial, especially in an ever-changing degree like BCII,” elaborated Sabrina.
“The projects are so unlike anything one experiences at school or even in their core degrees – being unstructured and creative. So, having students that have gone through the process to share their tips, feeling and ideas is vital to ensure new students don’t feel overwhelmed or drop out from such a unique degree.”
And the mentees weren’t the only ones learning throughout the program. When it came time to assist at the winter school, focused on exploring ‘Problems to Possibilities’, the mentors were astounded by the new cohort.
“They blew us away with the creative thinking in their projects,” said Sabrina.
“Being on the other side of a BCII project was also very interesting as far as informing my own practice in the future,” Josh added. “Being able to observe the dynamics from a completely outside perspective offered some incredible insight.”
Informal feedback for this year’s program has been overwhelmingly positive, and formal feedback is currently being gathered to help improve the program for next year’s students.
However, the cross-year mentoring program is only part of the Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation’s focus on student wellbeing. Tyler is currently looking to increase the Faculty’s involvement with the BCII student society, BCII Connect – “we’re trying to achieve the same thing,” he explained, “so it makes sense to work together more.”
On top of that, Tyler was recently awarded a UTS Social Impact Grant to explore the wellbeing of students and staff in the Faculty. Tyler has also been working with the UTS Director of Equity and Diversity to develop a holistic mental health and wellbeing strategy for the university.
And on a student level, Josh was able to take the power of the mentor program and run with it; developing and implementing an ‘internship’ program where students from younger years could have a taste of working on a final-year BCII Capstone project. The opportunity, taken up by several students across first, second and third year, has helped demystify what really goes on in that intensive final year in a flexible, informal and immersive setting.
“I really just wanted to give the new cohort the help that I wish we had gotten.”
If you are a current student in the Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation and would like to be involved with improving the student experience in the Faculty, email Associate Lecturer Tyler Key at firstname.lastname@example.org.