11 August 2017
There is a lovely African proverb which says, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. I’m going to add to that. When that child goes to university, ‘it will take a cheer squad to make a graduate’.
University is hard. In a way it is meant to be, because the degree is earned by hard work. Your student is going to come out with some great qualifications and a whole lot of knowledge. It’s hard to do that alone. Students need support networks. They need a cheer squad.
At USC Open Day I was part of the ‘Cheer Squad 101’ panel, which discussed the best way for cheer squads to support their students at university.
The panel included: Professor Karen Nelson, USC’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students); Dr Mark Pearson, a senior lecturer in Counselling in USC’s School of Social Sciences; and Jessica Bettega, a USC Animal Ecology student and Student Ambassador. So I was in very esteemed company.
If you are part of a cheer squad, or hope to be a cheerleader in the future, here are some great tips from the panel, and a few links you might find helpful.
Communication is the key:
Everyone agreed communication is the most important thing, and this starts at the very beginning (as they sang on the hills) with helping your student pick a fabulous field of study which is just right for them. Encourage your student to follow their passion and choose what they will enjoy, because that gives them the best chance of succeeding. No one should choose to study something just because it might make someone else happy, or because the job will pay big bucks. If your student is not sure what course of study to choose, talk with them about what they enjoy, what’s their passion, then look at some courses and check out USC Student Central for advice on careers.
Plan to succeed:
Prior planning prevents poor performance. Get your student to use a calendar and plan the semester out. That way they can allocate time for lectures, tutorials, study, work, sport and play. Some of my children even went so far as to combine their schedule planner with those of their study buddies, all colour coded, to make sure they could find some shared chill time.
You can support your student by helping with their plan and then checking and not scheduling extra events, like family get-togethers or camping trips, when you can see their week is really busy or they have assignments due. And when you can see the schedule is super stressful, help out with a bit of extra support…chocolate biscuits and their favourite food for dinner!
Encourage your student to take some of the skill sessions on offer. The sessions cover everything from time management to writing to researching and exam preparation. The sessions are listed online in the Student Hub and you can find even more help with study skills at the USC Library.
Keep students fed, watered and healthy:
Scheduling meals around a busy household can be a deadset nightmare, but try to share one good meal a day, and when you sit down to eat, turn off distractions if you can and chat, and listen.
If your student is living away from home, sharing a meal can be hard, but you can help them out with groceries, bake meals and send chocolate support. Then when they do come home, cook their favourite dish.
I have always encouraged my students to play sport. I like the social interaction and the physical and mental benefits of exercise. Encourage your student to be active, and think of how you can support them with this.
Find a team, a network, a friend:
There are so many ways to make new friends at university. Working in a group in tutorials can be an opportunity to make new study buddy friends, and the USC Student Guild is a fabulous connection place for students, who can just drop in, play a game of pool, or join in a Netflix and pizza night.
At USC there are experienced students who are part of the Student Success Network. These mentors are great to meet for a cuppa, to chat about university life and to help your student find a club or group that suits them. Then there’s netball teams and touch teams and walking groups and a chess club and student societies and even the Quidditch League. All these groups are opportunities for your student to have an even bigger cheer squad.
USC wants your student to succeed, and has a range of support services to encourage them to do just that. Every USC undergraduate student is contacted in their first semester and asked how they are going with university. It is important that students are comfortable asking for help, and the panel encouraged students to make contact with the various student services early in their university study, to establish a comfortable relationship. USC Student Wellbeing offers assistance with everything from accommodation to counselling to career advice.
Cheerleaders need to be there when things go wrong, and chances are, things will not go exactly to plan over the many years of university life. The student will have a subject they don’t like so much, an assignment they fail, a mistake they make. The world will not end because of this, but the student might feel like there is a chance it will. This is when cheerleaders need to prop up their students. Listen, then encourage the student to seek the assistance they need, whether it is talking to their tutor, their lecturer or student support services. Help them get over the speed bump and move forward. And focus on treating the experience as a learning curve, one where the student will learn skills to get over the next speed bump. Life can be full of those little hurdles.
Go team! Keep cheering and before you know it, the cheer squad will have raised a graduate!
Some great cheerleading sites at USC:
And one last tip, the USC dietetics students produced a free, great little cookbook perfect for students and all about good shopping and cooking on a budget.
Dr Janet Lee