Social Work mentor project a confidence boost for ACAP students

Posted by Virginia on 10 October 2017

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When Clara Koeck proposed a college Social Work mentor program as her field placement her teachers saw the benefits for students and alumni.

Clara Koeck has put her experience as a volunteer helping fellow learners to good use by designing a mentoring program for ACAP students as her Master of Social Work (Qualifying) field placement. The practical project also fits Clara’s ambitions of working in education and career development. 

ACAP’s School of Social Work at the Sydney campus was Clara’s ‘host’ during the final 500 of the 1,000 hours of placement required by her course. Her other placement was at Uniting Harris Community Centre at Ultimo, where Clara worked on community development projects and consulted with clients, including international students.

Past and current Social Work students are involved in Clara’s 2017 Trimester 3 ACAP pilot, which she says has benefits for both mentors and mentees.

“The mentors will receive a certificate to complement their resumes,” said Clara.

“Mentees have a great opportunity to exchange valuable experience with someone who has walked their path already as an ACAP Social Work student, and in the field during placement.”

The main objective of the mentoring project is to prepare undergraduate and postgraduate students for their social work field placements.

“This may include developing self-awareness, facilitating professional development, strengthening professional identity, applying Social Work theory to practice or brainstorming responses to situations on placement,” she said.

“Mentees are encouraged to discuss their specific goals with their mentor in the first session.”

One of Clara’s professional interests is in career development in the education sector. Her placement’s focus on student support is a progression of her desire to help others succeed that began during her own early Social Work studies at ACAP.

“For a year-and-a-half as a student, I offered volunteer services, holding interview preparation and resume-writing workshops for my peers, primarily targeting international students,” she said.

“As an international student myself, I am aware of the challenges of adjusting to a new language, a new culture, and at the same time having to be successful in your studies and in the labour market.”

Project preparation

Clara’s talent for facilitating workshops and her prior training in career development for international students on her arrival to Australia in 2014 impressed the School of Social Work when the mentor project was pitched.

Planning began in May with close college consultation on determining potential mentors’ personal qualities and other parameters, such as the participants’ abilities to commit their time for the full trimester, commencing in September.

“I was excited that I could design a completely new service for ACAP students," said Clara.

"I truly enjoyed creating this new opportunity and drafting the concept from scratch, while at the same time meeting the challenge to integrate it in a given institutional framework and ensuring it was in line with core social work values, such as in the Australian Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics."

Recruitment and training

Seven volunteer mentors were recruited, after applying via an email survey and being shortlisted for interview. The group is made up of advanced social work students and alumni, including five participants who have international backgrounds.

Clara wrote and conducted tailored training, approved by placement host, ACAP School of Social Work. The program highlighted the needs of international students through topics covering cultural sensitivity, communication, language and culture.

“I delivered a one-day training workshop in August, which prepared the mentors for the responsibilities and limitations of their roles,” she said.

“It was important for mentors to understand that the process needs to be informed by the values and ethics of the social work profession, such as social justice, respect for persons, professional integrity, and human rights. However, as all ACAP mentors are either qualified social workers or have almost completed their course, the appropriate skills and knowledge had been already acquired. I could therefore rely on that foundation and devote more training time to mentoring role-plays.”

Recruiting student mentees is the job of the School of Social Work’s Field Education team, led by ACAP lecturer, Kerry Saloner.

“During the pre-placement mentee application process, we are able to identify students who, for a variety of reasons, are deemed to not yet be sufficiently ready to embark upon their placement and its accompanying demands,” said Kerry.

Benefits for all

For the mentors (pictured above with Clara at rear-centre, and ACAP's Professor Sharon Moore, at front-right), the project is a chance to enhance employability. At job interviews, they will be able to demonstrate practical examples of empathy and active listening, traits highly valued in social work. Sharing valuable knowledge and practising leadership will bring additional personal rewards of professional satisfaction and increased confidence.

Providing academic support is not the job of mentors, who won’t be assisting students with assignments or revision. Rather, says Clara, their role is to share experiences informally.

“The support mentors are providing is ‘holistic’. Mentees can discuss any situation they feel is in relation to their professional development, or personal situations that may have an impact on their ability to be successful at placement and in their future careers,” said Clara.

“Mentoring offers students an additional space to discuss challenging situations, or just to exchange thoughts outside of a formal setting. There may be goals agreed on at their first session, but mentoring does not have a pre-set format and no pre-set outcome to be achieved."

Social Work courses at ACAP

ACAP offers the Bachelor of Social Work, Master of Social Work and Master of Social Work (Qualifying) on-campus at Sydney. Read more about these programs, their flexible study modes, and social work graduate career opportunities here