SoIT's News, Issue 4 2008

Empowering students through the Undergraduate Mentoring Program


In 2001, Associate Professor Judy Kay and research assistant Amanda Miller initiated an undergraduate mentoring program in the School of IT. The program was intended to provide support to junior IT students during their transition from high school. Eight years on, the program is still going strong, and the benefits, for both the mentors and their protégés are becoming clear.

The program sees second year students sent out to first year labs to mentor junior students. The mentors spend at least one hour a week in the labs and act as “big buddies”, sharing their personal experiences about their own first year at university. Student feedback on the program shows that this type of support helps to alleviate the students concerns, and makes them feel more comfortable in the new environment.

The mentor should also help to weave a “social fabric” in the lab, and break down boundaries for shy students. Undergraduate Director, Dr Josiah Poon, explains “We found that although junior students may have friends studying at this University or even doing the same subject, they may be in different tutorial groups, so a student may not know anyone in the class. The mentors create a friendly atmosphere in the lab, and encourage conversation, as well as helping academically.”

The program, which was initially only run in the first half of the semester, has been extended to the whole semester, and the School has started to actively recruit mentors.

In 2008 there has been 20 mentors working in 18 labs in each semester, and Josiah says the really pleasing thing is that they are taking ownership of the program; “This year some of the mentors took the initiative to run Lunch Time Help Sessions for junior students. This extra step shows that the mentors really care, and are passionate about creating a better learning environment for the junior cohort.”

The program benefits all involved and Josiah believes “it has become a student empowerment program. First year students who are grappling with the change from familiar high school, to vastly different university are given confidence by the mentors. The mentors also gain confidence through the program, by practicing their communication, leadership and social skills. These are crucial attributes for future success. As a result, they are both getting a richer university experience.”

Earlier this year, Judy was awarded the Computing Research and Education Association of Australasia (CORE) Teaching Award. The award recognised Judy’s many contributions and teaching innovations, including the mentoring program.

Photo: Undergraduate Director Dr Josiah Poon (far left) with the Undergraduate Mentoring team