Nothing beats the value of peer-to-peer connection when engaging with widening participation students
It seems like it was only yesterday that I was sat in lectures, making friends from all around the world and jumping at every opportunity that came my way. The reality is I am fast approaching the end of my first year into the world of work. There were many opportunities I feel lucky to have experienced at university. Two that always spring to mind are my role as a student ambassador and being a mentor during my university’s summer school. I found these roles so fulfilling that I remained an ambassador throughout all three years of my degree and re-applied to work on next year’s summer school straight after working my first. Throughout the year, I would deliver talks to various year groups and show prospective students around my university. At summer school, I facilitated workshops and worked closely with Post-16 students from widening participation backgrounds. Whilst these were great ways for students to learn from us, I was surprised by just how much I learnt from them and how much they opened my eyes to the many barriers to higher education.
Not everyone can attend an open day 4 hours away.
Each evening, we’d sit down together and the students would share some of the challenges they had faced when considering higher education. One student talked about her how her science teacher had told her to give up her dream of becoming a doctor because people from her area ‘don’t go to university nor become doctors’. Having watched these students arrive at the beginning of summer school, shy, reserved and reluctant to get stuck in, it was amazing to watch them leave confident, motivated and inspired. If peer-to-peer connection can have this much impact, imagine how powerful it could be in an online environment that’s always accessible. Like me, many students at summer school were the first in their family to consider university. And so, live chat is not only a familiar way of communicating but it also provides a safe and accessible space for students to ask questions, no matter how big or small. When working with widening participation students, I found many were incredibly low in confidence. Applying for university can be daunting especially when neither of your parents went through this process let alone those in your area. That’s why live chat events provide the perfect medium to break some of the barriers these students face. Students can easily register and eavesdrop on a chat, there is no pressure for them to initiate it. They can also remain anonymous. Attending open days can be another challenge. Whether it’s financial reasons or lack of parental/carer support, “not everyone can attend an open day 4 hours away
” as one student simply put it. Virtual open days are a great way to ensure students from all backgrounds feel included as they can attend from the comfort of their own home. Why not ask a student ambassador to host a group chat about student life or you could ask members of staff to run course specific Q & As. The best thing about working with these students was the fact that we could relate to them and they could relate to us. Less than three years ago I was in their shoes, sitting my A-levels and filling out my UCAS form. Current widening participant students are huge role models for prospective students because they’ve challenged stereotypes and so, asking them to moderate a chat could provide a huge confidence boost. Background should never determine a young person’s future. With the right support, encouragement and advice, widening participation students can reach their potential and achieve great things. If you’d like to know more about Meet & Engage and how our 1-2-1 and group chat can help you better support widening participant students, get in touch – email@example.com
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