At Nottingham Trent University (NTU), we are seeking to increase engagement and retention through student peer mentoring and the delivery of a new Welcome Workshop. This workshop, which has been co-created and co-facilitated by our student mentors, is designed to instil a sense of belonging and student agency in all undergraduate first-years starting in September 2018.
Across the sector, as we prepare to induct a new cohort of students and try our best to ensure that they feel part of their campus and course community, it is worth acknowledging that some of these new arrivals may not quite make it to their second year of university. Some of the reasons behind this may be personal, some might be academic, and some might be based upon other factors.
At NTU, one of the methods used to increase engagement and retention is a student peer mentoring programme built to strengthen feelings of belonging. Every undergraduate first year meets their mentor in their first week and takes part in a student-centred, active ‘Welcome Workshop’ that is facilitated by student mentors, with the support of specially trained university staff. The aim of the session is the creation of strong communities from the earliest days of term, to aid our new students’ transition into university, and to enable our student mentors to start to build meaningful connections with their mentees. The session also promotes a sense of student agency and encourages them to be proactive and engaged with their learning.
Co-creation has been an important aspect of the Welcome Workshop, with the session designed by NTU staff and the charity, ‘Grit’, who work with universities to develop resilience, belonging and confidence in students. This is a new and exciting initiative that has involved the collaborative development of a new type of session that will strengthen the great work that already makes up our induction.
The student voice has also been imperative in the development process, with student mentors co-designing the session’s resources based on their recent experience of being a first year at NTU. This student-staff collaboration has been a key element to the success of the planning process. The session, which has now been piloted 12 times in preparation for September, features themes around the anxieties and hopes that our student mentors have raised as worthy of discussion, and is built around activities that students feel will build strong community.
Beyond our Welcome Week, the mentors will be supporting an extended induction throughout the entirety of the academic year. Mentors will be meeting with their mentees in a variety of settings including personal tutorials and other timetabled sessions, as well as through the facilitation of a number of community-building events.
September 2018 will be the start of the second year of our programme. We are looking forward to the programme evolving further and working with our students and academics in our intention to improve student retention and engagement.
The sector rightfully continues to address student attrition and ensure that we are doing everything possible to enable students to succeed at university. This is a moral imperative. Sharing practice across HEIs so that we may learn from each other’s successes and ambitions is always positive and might just enable us to better develop approaches to ensure that any student who joins a university has the best chance to progress and thrive. We would welcome any comments or tips on how others are harnessing the power of peer mentoring to improve engagement and retention in their organisations.