As Autumn session looms, we emerge from a challenging period for students and academics. To ease us in, the First and Further Year (FFYE) Forum kept up its tradition of addressing belonging and connection for its first event of the year.

What’s love got to do with it? We learned that care, concern and kindness goes a long way in creating a positive student experience at UTS at this online community forum held on Valentine’s Day. [Editor’s note: Inspired by the Tina Turner title of the forum, the following headings are all names of pop songs – apologies in advance for getting power ballads stuck in your head.]

We belong

One of the best ways of making a connection quickly and effectively is starting with an Icebreaker. Prior to the offical start of the forum, Jacqueline Melvold led some object-based icebreakers.

Then, we were inspired by the Indigenous concept of belonging to Country by pairing up in breakout rooms and reflecting on our own connection to land. This icebreaker illustrated that belonging is both a geographical and social concept. Our sense of belonging reflects our intimate connection to place, people, culture and shared journeys. And at the heart of it is a sense of love, and feeling part of a community in all our diversity and difference.

You can’t hurry love

Alisa Percy has been developing an infographic of Belonging principles and practices that first featured in her November 2021 blog Building Belonging in 2022. The FFYE forum was an opportunity to develop the infographic with a wider audience, and the next iteration will be informed by the lively discussions that took place in the breakout room groups. We look forward to sharing the next version of the infographic in a future blog.

The look of love

As Kathy Egea explained, the Belonging infographic was a valuable tool for a range of funded faculty projects. These ranged from getting survey or focus group feedback and co-designing with students, to resource development and expanding horizons in Canvas sites.

As an example, Samantha Donnelly from DAB showed how some the lived experiences of students were captured in a survey. The graphs below reveal particularly high rankings for peer connection and social events. These findings informed an outcome of establishing working groups for student-led activities.

Love is all around

Orientation is an important time for students to make social connections. Rachel Yasmineh from Careers summarised student engagement and transition at UTS, and shared:

  • how students can get involved before and during Orientation in CareerHub
  • a summary of the new Student Success Advisor Program and Orientation Navigators Program
  • 4 principles to run Orientation: communicating can and concern, fostering meaningful encounters, practicing radical inclusion and inspiring agency

The kids are alright

Student perspective is always a favourite part of the FFYE forums, as a Mentimeter poll of reflections of the day illustrated. Aurora Murphy asked U@Uni academy ambassadors Ana Tasi Tevaga, Esley-Anne Dadsen and Amir Ali Jalali Farahani about their experiences as mentoring and being mentored.

From an early age, we present to these (mentored) students that university is an option, that they are capable of it and to change the narrative that they may be exposed to – that universities are not some far-fetched thing that a few of them are able to do, but it’s an option for anyone.

Esley-Anne Dadsen

You are never aware of what impact you could have on someone and their future. Make sure to never disappoint or discourage anyone and try your best to understand and assist them in anyway possible.

Amir Ali Jalali Farahani

Professional and academic staff have such a big role to play in a student’s experience of belonging. I know everyone sees so many students in a day but every subject and every lecture is the gateway to the student in a particular area, discipline or field. That classroom environment plays a big role in whether the student continues to explore and feel like they can navigate their interest in that area.

Esley-Anne Dadsen
Meet the three students in this recording of the day’s Q&A session (duration: 26 mins)

Come together

The theme of the next FFYE forum will be co-design. Whet your appetite with some inspiring stories of co-design that stemmed from the most recent Learning Design Meet-up and keep an eye on our Events pages for registration information for the next FFYE forum.

Join the discussion