How A Flock Of Owls Changed The Way Students Start Uni Life
Another Orientation Week has come and gone at universities across Queensland. Students in their thousands poured on to campuses to explore what previously they had seen only on websites or in newspaper clippings.
With the buildings looming like a maze of concrete and glass, the meandering mobs tried to take it all in, coming to grips with what was a much larger and more confusing prospect than initially envisaged.
And then the OWLs arrived.
This year the Griffith Orientation Week Leaders program, notoriously dubbed the OWLs, showcased a new approach to mentoring. Easily identified in their black t-shirts featuring a colourful owl above the words ‘Follow Me, I know where I’m going’, their mission was to help new students settle in.
At Griffith University’s five campuses, O Week began on February 23 and, as many “veterans” will remember, starting University can be daunting. As well as finding your way around a strange environment, there are lecturers, tutors and fellow students to meet, and an array of services to discover and memorise.
One of the new OWLs, second year student Isaac Buckland, was in charge of promoting the OWLs’ work via social media. He said the ultimate challenge throughout O Week was helping students find their way.
An innovative passport scheme was one solution.
“Students come along and receive passports which encourage them to attend different events. They also collect stickers giving them a chance to win some really cool prizes,” Isaac said.
“The vibe is great during O Week. Everyone’s really into it. Plus we can give a student’s perspective on what we went through during our first year at uni.
“It’s also important to connect people who are doing the same degree. That way they’ll know a friendly and familiar face when the real learning begins.”
OWLs Tested Before Taking Flight
The OWLs program aims to engage senior students in a leadership program and, as Isaac explained, candidates are tested before becoming official O Week guides.
“We receive up to $1000 worth of training education where we learn how to be a good leader. The training helps us assist students with their needs,” he said.
OWL Hannah Maxwell, a fourth year Griffith law student, mentored in 2014 and this year, saying: “OWL is really taking off because if anyone is lost they can just come up and have a chat. Or if someone looks lost and they are a little shy, you can make the effort to walk up to them. I do it all the time because it’s super fun saying you’re an OWL.”
Nervous first year Alyssa attended O Week for her Asian Studies course introduction. She said Griffith is a totally new experience.
“I’m from Darwin so this is all very new to me. I chose to come to Brisbane because I wanted to study close to the city,” Alyssa said.
“This place is really big. Compared to Darwin, everything is so different, but the Nathan campus is full of wildlife and bushland and that reminds me of home.”
O Week is all about integrating new students into the Griffith University lifestyle by offering introductory programs and sessions including campus and library tours.
The OWLs urge new students to take these tours, which are run by the Griffith Mates among other mentor groups, working in liaison with the OWLs.
Volunteers Jeffery Lau, Jack Wilkinson and Patrick Cook said the Griffith Mates are not just available for students during O Week, but provide assistance throughout the year. The Mates maintain a special focus on supporting international students.
“O Week is important because students can find themselves very lost,” Jeffrey said. “And at 3pm, when most people have left as the day’s events wrap up, the Griffith Mates find a lot of people who want to go on campus tours and twilight tours around Brisbane city.”
The Griffith Mates collected statistics from their tours, recording an average of 50 students participating each morning and afternoon.
One of them was Denis Kornienko, a first year Information Technology student from Russia, who joined a campus tour to find quirky spots around Nathan.
“It’s a modern university, it’s a new place for me and it’s so different from cold Russia where our universities reflect our old history,” Denis said.
How do you tell the difference between new students and people who have started Uni a week early?
OWL Isaac: “You can just tell by their faces.”
OWL Hannah: “And the way they walk! They look at everything.”
OWL Isaac: “They are very tentative and bring big backpacks like you would in year one.”
OWL Hannah: “I still have a backpack and I’m a fourth year…”
OWL Isaac: “They seem very nervous, but also very excited. Some of them bring their parents too.”
OWL Hannah: “People who have been here for a while have a certain confident strut… it’s the Griffo strut.”
How was your O Week?
Did it live up to your expectations?
Did you receive assistance from the OWLs, Griffith Mates or another mentoring team that you like to give a shout out to?
Leave a comment here or on Facebook. Thanks!
Written by Hannah Sbeghen
Artwork by Nicole Clowes