The journey through academia can be varied, often random, bringing with it a mixture of challenge, discovery, exhilaration, frustration, exhaustion and ideally, an ultimate sense of achievement. Few life experiences offer a more comprehensive exposure to organisation on a grand scale. For a student to navigate a path through this minefield, one must be ‘on the ball’ from day one, bringing an armoury of skills ranging from computer literacy, timetabling and map-reading to juggling, negotiating and generally managing the complex aspects of independent living, often for the first time.
The University does an amazing job in providing the raw materials to facilitate this process. It is without doubt a teaching centre of excellence and has honed its Schools to enable learning of the very highest calibre. The idea is that everyone jumps in, swims like mad, and ideally comes out the other end, smiling, if somewhat bedraggled.
That of course, is fine for the majority of students who arrive having somehow managed to acquire the above mentioned skill set and required attributes to swim efficiently.
Realistically, and not surprisingly, not all students get to the finishing line without a falter. Fortunately, the University recognises that support to achieve comes not only in the form of directed academic support, via tutors, lecturers, course directors, but also in the form of more personal, individual support, tailored to a particular student’s needs. Clearly the vanguard of this is in the Personal Tutor system, which goes a long way to bridging the gap between personal and academic. Personal Tutors are supported and complemented by Student Support Officers, with their specific role of helping iron out academic wrinkles within the particular school.
On a wider scale, the University offers specialist support in the form of the Counselling Service, Careers Service, and the Disability Service.
Within the Disability Service, a range of, tutors, mentors, and IT experts, assess and tailor the needs of the students to enable them to be offered maximum opportunity to stay on track with their studies.
My role within the Disability Service is as a Mental Health Mentor, a post I have held for 8 years. During this time I have worked with students, often long term, to encourage and support all aspects of their personal and academic life, in the light of particular emotional or mental health difficulties they may be experiencing. I was deeply privileged last year to be awarded the EUSA Teaching Award for Student Support, having been nominated by a student whose journey I had shared for some 7 years.
Of necessity, the work is creative and varied, becoming pertinent only to that student. As a mentor, I work alongside the Disability Advisors who create a Learning Profile, advocating appropriate adjustments which may optimise a student’s achievement. I work as an advocate and liaison with other university staff relevant to the student. Although complex, often distressing, and sometimes frustrating, nevertheless the overriding sense is one of progression and achievement – even if this means helping a student come to terms with changing path.