Gabrielle Vallons and Laura Brown
University Library and Careers Service
Who is involved?
Gabrielle Vallons, Julia Robinson, Laura Brown, Naomi Oosman-Watts, Leah Carter, Philip McGowan, Tracy Scurry, Elisa Lawson.
Why did you do it?
Due to lockdown restrictions and social distancing, we wanted to create an ‘ice breaker’ activity that would give Peer Mentors and Mentees the chance to meet remotely. This challenge not only gave students the opportunity to work together as teams, but also to get to know other students in their School and make new friends. For new students, the challenge was also their first experience of working in a team at university level and was a great experience to learn tactics for effective group work at university.
We wanted this to be an opportunity for students to become familiar with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and foster their sense of ethical, social and environmental responsibility towards society whilst at university. The UN’s SDGs are of universal and interdisciplinary relevance to all, and students will encounter them again in their studies.
For the challenge, students were asked to develop a strategy to raise awareness of one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to students on their course. Students were invited to select the goal that most resonated with them. There was no right answer in how they could complete the challenge and students were free to develop any idea, ranging from something such as a marketing strategy or social media campaign, a product or even a policy that the University could implement for students. Their ideas gave them the opportunity to win a prize and potentially have a great impact across the student body and further afield. Using a challenge framework allowed students to develop skills in teamwork, creativity and innovation and provided an opportunity for them to push themselves out of their comfort zone.
How did you do it?
We informed Peer Mentors via the Peer Mentor Canvas Community that the competition would be taking place, what the purpose of it was and how they could submit their entry. The challenge took place over the induction period and students were advised to work and communicate with each other via MS Teams, using a mix of individual and live group work.
Access to support and guidance was provided through a dedicated webpage on the Peer Mentoring website to help them complete the challenge. Here students found support on how to work in a team, how to clarify the problem, how to creatively problem solve and generate a good idea, how to develop that idea and how to present and submit their proposal to the judging panel. The proposals varied from infographics to videos and narrated PowerPoint slides. Having a dedicated webpage meant that students could engage with the material at a time that suited them. Peer Mentors submitted their finished entry on behalf of their team via Canvas and the winners were presented with their prizes at the annual Peer Mentor Thank You Event.
Does it work?
Yes, it did! Over 40 entries were received, with over 400 students from across the Faculties and Campuses participating in the competition. Not only did the challenge help students to make friends and learn about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, but their ideas are being taken forward and developed by the University and could have lasting impact across the student body. Plans are in progress to develop the first prize winning entry by Tharika Gunasekaran and her mentees for their entry ‘A Fight for Zero Hunger’, in which they proposed the creation of a new module accessible to all students covering topics such as sustainable consumption, an awareness of world hunger and food conservation practices.
Plans are also in place to develop the second prize winning entry by Wyome Frankle and her mentee Laura Morgan for their entry entitled ‘A Newcastle University Student’s Guide to Gender Equality’, in which they proposed adding a new feature to the Newcastle University app, enabling students and colleagues to select their own pronouns for smartcards and University profiles.
Subsequently, Adam Desouza, who won a Commendation prize, has also been awarded the Student Sustainability Award at this year’s NUSU Celebrating Success Awards for his work in the SDG Peer Mentoring Competition on goal 14, ‘Life Below Water’ and he then went on to win the “Outstanding Contribution to Sustainability and the Environment” award at the Pride of Newcastle University awards.
It is great to see the impact that our Peer Mentors are having not just on their mentees, but also on the wider University, and the effect taking part in the scheme has on the Peer Mentors’ personal and professional development.
A Fight for Zero Hunger, Tharika Gunasekaran and her mentees
A Newcastle University Student’s guide to Gender Equality, Wyome Frankle and her mentee Laura Morgan
“I thought taking part in the Peer Mentoring Induction Week Challenge was a great ice breaker to get to know my mentees. I also just knew that I had to take part in it, given my enthusiasm and passion towards social causes and sustainability. I think I really wanted to challenge myself and see if I could do more than just trying to live a more sustainable life, perhaps even motivate a few people along the way. Winning the challenge personally has made me want to do more towards social causes (i.e. volunteering) and the UN SDGs and it is something I want to continue doing in the future. Furthermore, the support and recognition I have got since winning the challenge has been exciting and inspiring.”
Tharika Gunasekaran (NUBS) – First Prize Winner
“Having first learnt about the challenge, I was immediately drawn into the idea of making actual change on campus, specifically surrounding the issue of inclusivity – something that is very important to me. Not only did I think the opportunity to collaborate with my fellow mentees would be a great way to get to know them, but I was even more so excited to explore my own subconscious bias and educate and challenge myself in ways I could be more inclusive too (and even develop my own education surrounding the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals).”
Wyome Frankle (Maths, Stats & Physics) – Second Prize Winner
“The challenge not only helped to break the ice between my mentees and I, but also between each other. It also helped break the ice for my mentees into what University life expected of them academically, by introducing concepts such as referencing and analytical skills. With environmental issues being a hot topic worldwide, it is extremely important to me that Newcastle University continue to implement initiatives that better their ecological footprint. Knowing I may have an impact on wider university life and its environmental footprint is incredibly rewarding.”
Maia Ellis (Politics) – Third Prize Winner
Interested in finding out more?
The Peer Mentoring webpages provide information on the University’s Peer Mentoring scheme, including information for staff and current students as well as prospective students who may want to find out more about what to expect from their Peer Mentor before their arrival at University.
Information for Peer Mentors and their mentees regarding the SDG Induction Period Challenge was provided via a dedicated webpage. This page included information about the competition as well as access to teaching materials and guides which were released consecutively during the induction period to help them to complete the challenge.
The challenge was developed so that students would engage with each of the attributes in the framework, but particularly the attributes: digital literacy, collaborative, socially responsible and creative, innovative and enterprising. The Peer Mentor training includes guidance for students on how to identify and articulate the transferable skills they are developing through the role for their CV and student feedback shows that students can see evidence of these attributes being developed through the challenge.