Creatively promoting community during the pandemic

Our students and staff have been working together in creative and energetic ways to promote community and connectedness – and to help others – during the pandemic.

It has, as we all know, been a strange and unsettling few months. Our normal ways of doing things, which ordinarily form part of our way of life and of belonging – eating together at formal hall, hanging out together on a corridor, walking to a lecture, giving a friend a hug – have been thrown out the window, and like the rest of the world we’ve had to adjust and adapt at speed.

But, in living with restrictions we would never have anticipated, and certainly would never have asked for, we have also seen new or different aspects of College life emerge and flourish, and it has been terrific to see how our students have chosen to respond. Over half our students have remained in College throughout, and many of those who went home are beginning to return – with almost all students expected to be back in residence by the start of next semester (with 14-day isolation arrangements as needed for inter-state students).

Our students have generally adapted well to online study, and the College’s tutorial program and other academic support have continued strongly, both for students in College and those at home. All students have recently had individual Learning and Wellbeing Reviews with the Director of Learning, Dr Rachel Buxton, and the Dean, Professor Peter Tregear.

Many students have also stepped forward to take the lead in a host of different areas which have enabled students both in residence and at home to stay socially connected to each other while upholding the necessary demands of social distancing  – be it running online “Kahoot!” quiz nights, College Bingo (with squares marked off for completing activities such as playing an online game with a friend, making an origami figure, posting a photo of your study space, and so on), or zoom or snapchat catch-up sessions.

This month some of our student leaders have also organized an “Alliances” game in which students form teams comprising those both in College and those out of residence which then competed in a range of mini challenges and activities for which they earned points for their Alliance. Our Sports reps have also set up a St Mark’s team to participate in the “May 50K” to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis – we now have over 30 team members, and have raised more than $3,000 to date.

Our communal veggie garden is thriving, a mural is being created overlooking the tennis courts, and many of our students have been discovering a real pleasure in volunteering to help some of the more vulnerable members of our local and alumni communities with tasks, such as shopping and gardening, that they may otherwise struggle with during the pandemic.

Other COVID-safe activities have included table tennis matches in the JCR live-streamed to fellow students watching via Facebook, and small groups undertaking activities from yoga and pilates to painting and sculpture. Over half the students in residence took part in (socially distanced) vigils around the College at 6am on Anzac Day to “light up the dawn” and to remember those, including 20 Old Collegians killed in World War II, who have died in war.

Amongst much else to promote student wellbeing, we were also very fortunate to welcome to St Mark’s at the end of last term clinical psychologist Diana Gibbs Ludbrook who ran a superb session for students around strategies to manage anxieties and develop resilience in relation to COVID-19.

A key theme in much of this has been gratitude: recognising the positive in our lives even if things might be difficult. The Equity Officers are currently running “Warm and Fuzzies” in which students write anonymous messages of thanks and encouragement to each other, and “Love Week” in which those participating undertake to show love to a fellow student who has been allocated to them, for example by buying or make small gifts, writing notes, and generally performing kind gestures.

Focusing on all they are grateful for in College life, many students have written letters of thanks for the scholarships they were awarded at the start of the year, and for the support they have received from the COVID-19 Pandemic Student  Support Fund to help those who have lost much-needed income because of the pandemic. Many have said that they are determined, when they can, to do all they can to pass on this support to future students.

Another important and happy recent development has been the creation of a new section of our website: “Thrive at Mark’s”. This is a one-stop shop for students both in and out of residence, covering

  • study skills (including tips for online study and time management);
  • wellbeing (including links to useful resources and recommendations for apps and podcasts); and
  • careers support.

“Thrive at Mark’s” builds on the new St Mark’s College Graduate Careers Directory, and helpful tips for students posted by the Director of Learning on the internal student Facebook page.

With end-of-semester exams and other assessments fast approaching, and a healthy focus in College on preparation for these, we’ll be adding to “Thrive at Mark’s” over the coming weeks with a section on revision and exam strategies.

So, while many aspects of College life have had to adapt and change this semester, a wonderful energy and positivity has nevertheless been evident, and we have every expectation that this creative approach will continue into the future, whatever that may hold for us and for our wider community.

The Dean, Professor Peter Tregear, and Director of Learning, Dr Rachel Buxton, spoke with all students (both in residence and at home) for Learning and Wellbeing Reviews

Students prepare to mark Anzac Day

Pot plants and gardening help students de-stress

Live streamed table tennis championships bring entertainment to all

Over 30 students signed up for the May 50K challenge to raise money for MS Research Australia

Technology helps students keep in touch

Students volunteer to help members of our wider community – with gardening, shopping, and more – during the pandemic

Good food and experimental cooking from students brings a smile to everyone’s face

Baking is an excellent pastime for any student

Competitive baking bring excellent results

Academic tutorials continue online and face-to-face, providing academic support for students

Thinking about their futures, students were able to attend a University of Adelaide webinar on postgraduate scholarship opportunities