Oorala Aboriginal Centre’s Role – Support Mechanisms
Oorala’s initiatives in student support and involvement with UNE to improve graduation rates included:
- Oorala provides support for TRACKS and TAFE Pathways students, as well as for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in UNE courses. Key elements include Oorala’s orientation and project activities, ITAS tutoring, mentoring, community networks, online support hubs through Moodle and development of a multi-faceted approach collaborating with UNE’s services on engagement and retention.
- Collaboration with UNE Schools and First Year Advisors to increase the uptake rate of ITAS tutoring and the pool of suitably qualified ITAS tutors, especially where students needed more targeted support such as Health and Law disciplines, or off campus students in remote areas. Promotion of ITAS tutoring through on campus sessions and retention visits resulted in improved uptake rates and outcomes. In Trimester 1 of 2014 80% of students receiving ITAS tutoring obtained pass grades or higher.
- Ongoing advice and support on scholarship and Abstudy matters, intensive schools and clinical placements.
- Mentoring and socio-cultural support through the Elder in Residence/Student Relationship Officer assists student adjustment to university life. This staff member also joined UNE’s Special Needs Contact Network to provide specific support to special needs students and advise on UNE’s Disability Action Plan.
- ‘Yarn-up’ event for commencing, continuing and future Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students with participation from 21 organisations and UNE service providers, to foster ongoing support networks for student peer groups with services in accommodation, health, careers, financial assistance and academic support.
- Information sessions by ‘Career Trackers’ and motivational presentation by an Indigenous Educational Ambassador.
- Event hosted at Oorala linking local community health providers with Aboriginal students in UNE Health awards, to improve arrangements for clinical and work placements.
- Maintenance of Oorala’s focus on providing a culturally safe place for students, including study and learning facilities, equipment (computers, internet, printing, scanning, copying, etc) and social spaces.
- Seven retention and engagement visits to target areas which had shown high attrition rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students (North Western NSW and North Coast of NSW). Visits included workshops and face-to-face group or individual support.
- Continued liaison and collaboration with UNE Schools and Student Administration Services to identify strategies for improved outcomes, and visits to Aboriginal Support Units at other universities to review ‘best practice’ in support. Work with UNE included a focus on admission and enrolment processes, course requirements, advice and advocacy on academic progress issues, liaison with unit coordinators and referrals to specialised support services (first year advisors, Academic Skills Office, counsellors, etc.)
- Following Oorala’s participation as a research partner in the project ‘The transition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students into higher education’, funded in 2011 by the Australian Government’s Office for Learning & Teaching (OLT), the ‘Student Voices’ website was launched in 2014 to help Aboriginal students entering university. The information in this website has been collected from 96 Aboriginal university students who told the research team of their experiences of studying in bridging programs, undergraduate degrees and postgraduate degrees. Student participants came from Curtin University (Perth, WA); Charles Darwin University (Darwin, NT); The University of New England (Armidale, NSW); and Monash University (Melbourne, Vic) (see: http://www.ahetp.edu.au/studentvoices ).
- Oorala was a project partner with School of Education in the UNE MATSITI Exploratory Research Project. The Centre’s academics and student support staff provided consultation to the project’s research group to expand support strategies for ATSI teacher education students at UNE with the aim of increasing retention and completion. Surveys and discussion groups were developed and implemented in 2014, with data collection continuing in 2015 and activation of strategies planned to commence in 2016. Oorala’s involvement broadened the School’s awareness of culturally relevant and authentic ways in which to support Indigenous students.
- Oorala also provided input to School of Education on other support methods for education students, e.g. specific orientation initiatives, cultural awareness training for School staff and pathways for AEO’s into education degrees.