Otago University’s Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) team has recognised with the Higher Education Heroes Award for its efforts to help first-year university students during New Zealand’s country-wide COVID-19 lockdown.
The Higher Education Research and Development Society Australasia (HERDSA) New Zealand branch, who awarded the group, recognised their “exceptional quality of learning support care” for students in unprecedented uncertainty, especially for first-year students away from home for the first time.
“In times of such uncertainty, the PASS team provided continuity and community and did so with a high level of commitment and creativity.”
PASS is a complementary instruction programme that is led by third-year students, for first-year students to support them in what is undoubtedly a year full of new experiences and uncertainties.
With 44 members (7 mentors and 27 facilitators), PASS is currently supporting some 2,000 first-year students from various subjects and disciplines. Consider then the fact that PASS has been operating for 12 years, and you start to see the signs that the group has in terms of support for new students studying at Otago.
The PASS programme also receives faculty support through the oversight and advice of Dr Tracy Rogers and Dr Rob Wass, from the Higher Education Development Centre at Otago University. Dr Rogers added that it was terrific to see the group’s “dedication and generosity” formally recognised after years of quiet achievement.
“Aside from providing critical academic skills development, the PASS facilitators provided valuable pastoral care and well-being support to their students during the COVID-19 lockdown. They accomplished this while also coping with their adjustment to online learning and the stresses of lockdown restrictions.
We are pleased that the HERDSA New Zealand Committee provided this fantastic opportunity to officially acknowledge the unique role PASS facilitators performed in helping students cope during a stressful and challenging time.”
Dr Rogers added that the Pass team reacted quickly to the announcement of the Level Four Lockdown, and moved to see how they could support first-year students in such an unusual period of isolation and uncertainty.
The fact that the PASS team also had to juggle their studies and uncertainties is a testament to their dedication to helping others.
“The PASS team ran 60 online sessions per week for the remainder of the semester with not a single mishap nor cancelled session. Fortnightly training and debrief sessions were held with the team to ensure everyone was well supported.”
As part of the prize, the Pass team received $1,000 in prize money, but the official recognition of the team’s work is more critical, Dr Rogers said. HERDSA NZ has asked that the PASS team spend the prize money locally to support local businesses that have endured hardships during COVID-19.