Sparking Uni aspirations without face-to-face yarning

9 November 2020

Social distancing has really struck at the core of a UQ Outreach and Engagement team who would otherwise be yarning face-to-face with Indigenous school students and adult learners throughout the year.

However, the COVID-19 challenge really brought out their best efforts in the online space to create a multi-platform approach, which continues to spark robust conversations about coming to Uni.

Above: ATSIS Unit staff Raqual Nutley (left) and Robyn Donnelly (right) on a visit to Corina High. Below: Participants in an InspireU camp.

After some early momentum at Senior Engineering and Junior STEM camps in January, the O&E team of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit had to swiftly adapt to the reality of COVID-19.

“It’s been our forte to engage with students and key stakeholders in schools, industry and the Indigenous community face to face, in order to create, embed and strengthen links between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and UQ,” says O&E Manager, Emma Olssen.

“In a normal year, we would have our series of on-campus InspireU camps along with Tertiary Experience Days for school groups, Mini Expo sessions at the Unit, school visits and evening sessions for non-school leavers.

“We’ve compensated during COVID-19 by having zoom meetings, webinars and phone chats but the challenge of zoom fatigue and the overall white noise of communications has started to diminish those options.

“In order to continue to pique their potential student interest in different ways, we have worked with our Student Support team to produce a suite of online videos, which can be used to welcome school students, enabling them to see what’s on campus and view a current student profile, to be motivated and to have FAQs answered.”

Mrs Olssen says schools have quite rightly been reluctant to host outsiders but some O&E staff have managed approvals to visit Indigenous high school students, drawing on COVID-safe planning to address their future interests and pathways.

“In 2021, we plan to hold on-campus InspireU camps while also using a multi-level platform to cater for students who may be nervous about travel, or in case of border closures,” she says.

“For any students who can’t attend in person, we plan to provide them with interactive packs so they can tap into some of our campus activities via livestream video, including asking questions and joining in with at least some of the camp experiences.

“If we engage them, they will hopefully register for future camps once restrictions are lifted.

“COVID was a catalyst for us to get more digital, online and multi-platform and these skill sets will continue to be an asset.

“For the 38 students who attended camps in January, we stayed engaged and designed our new online videos to remind them of the memories they had when on campus, while reigniting their drive to continue along their path.”