The Collaborative Wellbeing Activities Team won the Student Experience Team University Award 2017. Two of its members from the Library, Hannah Hickman (Community Engagement Officer: Undergraduate and Teaching) and Dr Gemma Marakas (Community Engagement Manager Postgraduates) offer some insight into what it means for them.
You can shadow Gemma Marakas as part of our work shadowing programme.
Tell us a bit about your role:
"I joke that students are in the Library to study, but my job is all about distracting them from doing just that! We believe that students can only reach their full potential when the whole student is supported - and this means supporting not just their studies, but encouraging them to look after their wellbeing, giving them opportunities to celebrate their work with societies, and engaging them in library spaces with other agencies that offer support for the whole student. It's so easy to spend 12 hours in the Library, but actually only do two or three hours of work, with the rest of it consumed by anxious procrastination. It's much better for students to take an actual break and relax - they perform better, learn better, and feel better!"
"I manage the postgraduate community engagement team at the University of Warwick Library. Our aim is to build a programme of activity for PGT and PGR students, based not only in our two spaces (The Postgrad Hub and Research Exchange) but across campus and virtually.
We strive to support the 'whole student' to succeed, emphasising the benefits of community, belonging, peer support (both academic and pastoral) and promoting wellbeing initiatives. We play a key role in the planning and delivery of Welcome Week for Postgrads which sets our precedent to deliver activities and events for PGs throughout the year and vacation periods, ensuring they are supported throughout their lifecycle. For these initiatives we find ourselves collaborating with colleagues across numerous departments and the SU."
How would you define your project?
"We individually contributed in many ways. One of the key ways that I feel I contributed was through a collaboration with Nuala Clarke (Community Engagement Officer: Postgraduate) and Sarah Meharg (Wellbeing Advisor, Wellbeing Support Services), where we organised events for World Book Day and Universities Mental Health and Wellbeing Day, both of which fall on the same Thursday in March. It was the first time the Library had run large events like that. In 2016, the first year we ran a combined event, we chose the theme of 'Alice in Wonderland'. We had workshops run by Careers and Skills, Counselling, and Wellbeing Services, an afternoon tea party, meditation sessions, and finished with an evening of student poetry. This is just one example of how we worked across teams to deliver a holistic wellbeing offer in the space where students spend much of their time: the Library. Working collaboratively means that we can bring the experts to the students and raise awareness through light-touch ways, normalising those conversations about stress, wellbeing, performance and mental health. One great outcome from this collaboration has been the two new Wellbeing Advisors, which sit under Sarah Meharg's team structurally, but who (literally) sit next to me in the Library office. Ideas can cross-pollinate and we are able to support each other!"
"As everyone in Higher Education knows, student wellbeing is a massive issue, increasingly featured in the news, specialist press and conferences across the sector. But who is really doing anything effective about this?
A team of staff from the Library, Wellbeing Support Services, Warwick Sport and beyond (including the SU) are trying to make life better for our students. The team delivers ongoing programmes of support, including 'Study Happy' with its famous Pets As Therapy dogs, as well as new initiatives this year, such as the self-paced online course 'Postgrad Realities' and provision to support students in the 24 x 7 Library.
The three departments involved in this collaborative award have helped Warwick move the wellbeing agenda forward in an impressive way, with student-centred/lifecycle approaches. We have increased provision during vacation (focused on postgraduate and international students), increased wellbeing awareness and integrated the 'well-health' agenda ('pop-up sports', outdoor Yoga, Deskercise, etc.) within our On Track and Study Happy programmes. The team uses external models (i.e. 'Five steps to wellbeing') as well as the Library's student lifecycles to meet and anticipate students' wellbeing needs."
Going above and beyond your role:
"Resource is always an issue. Everyone has so much to do and not enough time! It's really important to actually make wellbeing projects a priority - we know there is a need, and that it is rising, and we absolutely have to respond to that. It might not be part of the day-to-day but wellbeing interventions can be incorporated into everyone's work. Asking students - and your coworkers! - "how are you doing?" in an authentic way and really, actively listening is such a small thing that can really make a difference to everyone, whether they're dealing with a mental health issue or just the stresses of everyday life."
"I would say our key challenges are structure/resource and moving beyond current thinking. The staff within this 'team' could have easily worked in comfortable silos slotted in their different departments working within their own (perceived?) structure limitations. Instead, they worked across boundaries as a team, supporting each other and working to their strengths to improve the student experience. As well as signposting and delivering services for those with more acute needs, the emphasis throughout has been on building resilience for all students, rather than getting caught up in what individual job descriptions state or whether it's a risk free success strategy. We share ideas, resource, staff-time and energy – we try new things, some of which are awesome, some don't work so well. Each step of the way we are building a picture of what students want and need, adapting as we go."
How does it feel to have won the Student Experience University Award?
"It's great to get the wider recognition for our efforts, and I hope it inspires more collaborative wellbeing action across the University. Work like this shows that sometimes you need to be less process-oriented and that thinking a bit more 'flat' (in terms of hierarchy) can really benefit the department, the University, and most of all, the students."
"We were all very shocked to win! It was great to be nominated and recognised at a local level, but winning really does bring a sense of pride in what you've achieved."
Extract from the team's nomination:‘This team has helped Warwick move the wellbeing agenda forward in an impressive way, with student-centred/lifecycle approaches, as well as ‘Study Happy’ interventions and postgraduate initiatives, recently being recognised in the ITLR (Library Review, 5.2.2). It is always difficult to measure the impact of such work but Library KPIs demonstrate both an impressive take-up of services plus high scoring feedback from students. Whiteboard feedback shows how PAT dog visits help reduce stresses, whilst tweets have shown how impressed students (and their parents) are that Warwick has invested in such initiatives.'