Erica Barclay (L) and Sarah Case
By Ashleigh McMillan
A University of Melbourne optometry mentoring program is helping forge connections between different year levels.
The Big Brothers, Big Sisters initiative was started in 2015 by current UMOSS president Victor Liu, pairing first- and second-year students to create a support network for new students.
Three years ago, current third-year student Erica Barclay was paired with her mentor Sarah Case, who is currently in the fourth year of her degree. Erica says she was eager to join Big Brothers, Big Sisters because it seemed to be a way to get extra guidance and create connections with the older cohort of students.
‘There are about 250 students across all four year levels, and when you start it’s a bit daunting because everything is new, so it was nice to have a friendly face around campus and someone I could ask questions about the course work,’ Erica said.
‘Sarah gave me some great advice about my assessments, so I would know what to expect and generally how things in the course ran. If I had any questions regarding things I’d learned, it was great to have someone with a bit more experience to explain things in a different way, especially if it was something I didn’t understand the first time.’
Sarah says that she was really excited to volunteer for the program because she wanted to help a new student settle in and be comfortable in the course.
‘I knew that the program was something I really would have benefited from when I was in first year because the course can be overwhelming initially, so I wanted to be involved and help make the transition easier for another student,’ she said.
‘It’s nice to have another familiar face around campus, or just someone to go get a coffee with and talk about lecture topics or course work. The program has really brought all of us optometry students together and I believe I’ve made a lifelong friend in Erica.
‘Optometry is a small industry and our cohort will soon become our professional peers, so it’ll be nice to carry these friendships into the workplace. ‘
The program is run by two second-year students each year who co-ordinate the pairing of students at the beginning of the year and organising social events for all the mentors and mentees. Erica became the student representative for the program in 2016, along with fellow student Anne Fernandez.
Erica says that the connections forged in the program were important even after she’d finished her first year, because of the amount of peer learning involved in the University of Melbourne course.
‘You’re often practising on the older year levels or doing partnered consultations with them for actual patients. In those situations, it’s great to have a few contacts and be a little bit less nervous, because you already know who you’re working with and have a friendship with them.
‘I think it’s helped my confidence in the course and even socially, and the program has definitely given me an opportunity to learn from my peers in an incredibly supportive environment,’ Erica said.