Above: FBE First STEP Mentoring group photo. Left to right: Peer mentor Shaniya Kumar, Associate Professor Catriona Lavermicocca and first-year mentee Maryrose Sukkar.
Starting university can be overwhelming for the new undergraduate. You can be anxious about settling into campus life and worried about meeting new people. You can also find attending to studies within your faculty quite daunting. But there are programs devised to make sure you feel right at home. Here’s one from the Faculty of Business and Economics (FBE).
To ensure new students get the most from their studies and to facilitate a smooth transition into university life, FBE initiated the First Step Mentoring program in Session 2, 2013. It is an academic-to-student program in which a third-year and above student can be a peer mentor to a first-year student. The peer mentor organises social outings for the mentoring group and develops business skills in team management and mentoring. In addition to meeting with the peer mentor and socialising with other mentees, the first-year student will also have the opportunity to meet regularly with an academic.
In this Q&A below, FBE academic mentor Associate Professor Catriona Lavermicocca, peer mentor Shaniya Kumar and a first-year mentee Maryrose Sukkar each explain how the First Step Mentoring program works for them and, most importantly, they outline the many benefits of the program. FBE First STEP Mentoring group photo. Left to right: Peer mentor Shaniya Kumar, Associate Professor Catriona Lavermicocca and first-year mentee Maryrose Sukkar.
The Academic Mentor
Associate Professor Catriona Lavermicocca, Associate Dean (Programs and Pathways) Postgraduate and an academic mentor.
What are your professorial responsibilities and academic interests here at Macquarie?
I teach taxation law at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, but I’ve also been involved in writing learning materials for Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand and the Tax Institute as well at co-ordinating and developing Macquarie University’s close relationship with professional accounting bodies. My research looks at corporate social responsibility, tax risk management practices, tax transparency, reputational risk and the income tax compliance behaviour of large corporations. Most recently I’ve participated in governance committees in the Faculty of Business and Economics and am currently the Chair of the Macquarie University Academic Standards and Quality Committee (ASQC).
Why did you want to be an academic mentor?
I am passionate about embedding employability skills into university qualifications and the need for education programs to address the changing skill set required in current day graduates. For this reason, I really want to help students settle as quickly as possible into university. From my experience, each time I am involved in the First Step program, I learn a lot more than the mentees. For example, I learn about the challenges that first-year students face and the diversity of issues outside university that have an impact on their experience here. Family, work and friends, to varying degrees, are brought into our discussions.
As a teacher, what’s the best thing about being a First Step mentor?
The best thing is that mentees provide me with insights I can use to inform the courses and units that I am involved in. As a result, I am better able to deliver programs that students connect with.
What are your first impressions of your mentees?
They are mostly a little shy and nervous but that soon changes and they become comfortable and relaxed.
How often do you meet? How has your relationship grown and what help were you able to give your mentees?
The program has guidelines around how often we meet but I think it is at least three times. The relationships on the whole grow over the session. The students often have questions they are unable to ask someone else, but they do ask me. That’s great as I love to help! Sometimes a mentee does drop out and it is often due to the student being really busy or because they feel they aren’t getting anything out of the program. That’s okay, because it is not meant to be a burden.
Can you offer three anecdotes of mentoring students that surprised you, you found funny or made you feel extra satisfied you were making a difference to a student’s experience within the Faculty.
One mentee had an explicit goal to be a federal politician one day, one mentee came to the University to study applied finance after a career as a qualified truck mechanic, and another mentee was so young and naïve when I first met her I wasn’t sure how she’d turn that around, but now, three years down the track, she has become a mentor herself!
What advice have you given your mentees about networking, communication skills and how to succeed in a business environment?
I am often talking to students about the importance of the soft skills necessary to get and keep a job – especially in this gig economy. Most importantly, and reflecting on my own career, I encourage students to participate in whatever comes along. If someone asks you to be involved, say yes, unless there is a clear reason not to.
The Peer Mentor
Shaniya Kumar is a peer mentor who is currently completing a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in accounting and human resources.
What’s your background? Tell us about yourself.
While studying, I work in an accounting firm in Sydney CBD, and have secured an internship at Deloitte at the end of 2018. As for my other major of human resources, I am learning more about that through interning in the Macquarie University Business School, specifically for First STEP Mentoring program. Outside of Macquarie, I love spending time with my family and friends and also play netball.
Why did you apply to be a FBE mentor?
I have been involved in many leadership roles and the idea of helping students settle into university has been one of my greatest achievements. Hearing about the challenges new students face always makes me want to be there for them as much as I can through high levels of support and guidance. This program is a great way for first-year students to start feeling comfortable and confident.
What’s the best thing about being a mentor? The best thing about being a peer mentor for FBE is the sense of accomplishment you feel at the end of the session when students have become more proactive. You see them joining clubs and societies and pursuing leadership roles themselves. Overall, it’s great to see them becoming engaged. It shows me how well I have helped them accomplished their goals. As for my own experience, I had a mentor from ANZ Bank who gave me the confidence to apply for internships and succeed in interviews.
Tell us about your first impressions of your mentees?
At first, they are incredibly shy, however, over time they become more open and relaxed.
How often do you get together with your mentees? How has your relationship grown and what help were you able to give them?
The mentees and I meet for social events throughout the session. Sometimes it’s difficult to find a time in our busy schedules to pin a date to a social event, however, we do our best to come together and socialise as often as possible. We often meet off campus in casual situations so that students can relax and be themselves.
What advice did you give your mentees about networking, communication skills and how to succeed in the business environment?
I encourage students to join groups and societies to enhance their social skills and to attend FBE-endorsed events to develop their soft skills of meeting, greeting and speaking. Going to the other general MQ events, such as Study Abroad Fairs or Careers Week, will also build their confidence when it comes time to apply for internships or to look for job opportunities.
The First-year Mentee
Maryrose Sukkar, is a first-year undergraduate student studying Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Commerce (International Business).
Why did you apply to be a FBE mentee?
I applied to the First Step Mentoring program because I wanted to understand the ins and outs of what uni life is about. I wanted to experience my first year to its full potential. I feel that this FBE program has helped me do that.
What’s the best thing about your mentor?
My academic mentor is Catriona Lavermicocca. She has been a warm, caring and motivational mentor who has allowed me to understand what uni is all about.
What has been some specific advice she’s had for you that helped you in your studies and plans for the future?
Catriona explained what women empowerment stands for and has encouraged me and other mentees and students to take on our study with passion and determination. Through discussing her own life, she has illustrated what women can achieve. She inspires me to further pursue my objectives in my Law/Commerce degree and has made me realise that passion is the most important attribute for success.
What are some of the things that you’ve learned in the program?
There are probably three things I’ve learned that will be important to my studies: to stay focused throughout the year, to give myself a break when needed and to always keep on top of my notes. Catriona explained that if I kept up to date, I wouldn’t have to catch up later on. This has helped me tremendously.
What have been some of the things you’ve learned about through meeting other student mentees?
Knowing that I have had many of the same worries as my fellow first-years has made me feel more settled. For example, I discovered I wasn’t the only one who was feeling nervous about starting at Macquarie Uni. It was also good to hear about everyone’s past experiences and why they chose certain courses. I found it intriguing that one of my fellow mentees has the same degree as I and we had chosen it for similar reasons.
What have been the benefits of the First Step program?
Via the program, I now better understand what the University has on offer. I also got to meet like-minded people with similar goals and ambitions. I’ve also been able to develop good relationships with my mentors and fellow mentees, which has been really beneficial in creating a support network.
Through understanding my academic mentor’s achievements in her work and family life, I’ve been able to think about life beyond my studies. I now aspire to support women who do not have access to education (there is an estimate of 31 million girls of primary school age who are not in school). I would like to take this opportunity to wholeheartedly thank my mentor Catriona and all those who have made this program possible. I highly recommend first-year students to apply for this program.
So how can you apply to become a mentee or peer mentor in Session 1, 2019?
If you are interested in becoming a first year student mentee, then please click on this link. If you are currently in your third year and above studying in the Faculty of Business and Economics and are interested in taking on a leadership role, then visit the First STEP mentor webpage to find out how to apply to become a peer mentor for 2019.
Photo: Joanne Stephan