More And Better
There are official projects designed for Student Integration.
It was in 2018 that the Faculty acknowledged the importance of the Student Support Office, an issue much debated and defended by the students when the second term of the current Director, Professor Fausto J. Pinto, was announced.
In this Office, whose daily work is managed by Ana Rita Sobral, of the Medical School, under the supervision of Executive Director Dr. Luís Pereira, grants for two projects were considered. Coordination grants were awarded to two 4th-year students of Medicine, João Valente (Mentoring) and Romila Ismail (Solvin'it).
Although it was only in 2018 that the Student Support Office officially emerged, Mentoring already had a partnership with the Faculty since 2017, the year in which the first grant was awarded in the pilot phase with said Project. The link was already provided by Rita Sobral, at the time an member of the Academic Unit in charge of coordinating and communicating the pilot experience, which was not yet attached to any particular office
The most recent project, Solvin'it , in 2018 received its first grant, in fact, the second funded by FMUL. The Students' Association came up with the proposal and the best way to integrate the project. They acknowledged it as a useful tool for study that already gathered external recognition, needing only internal consolidation. An original concept from AEFML, they invited Anatomy and Biochemistry tutors to supervise the materials of more personalised sessions for students, enabled by their peers - the monitors. The sessions grew, taking on an ever larger organisation with more participants. In the following years, those who watched as participants, were now also monitors.
Always in a rush between examinations, parallel hours in which they work on projects and the time they need to study, they skip lunchtime to greet me at the Support Student Office. Some of the meetings for these two projects are held here, as well as the Space S consultations that provide psychological support for the students. The Office is located at the Egas Moniz Building at the Institute of Preventive Medicine.
João Valente's connection with Mentoring goes way back. He started out being mentored and the experience allowed him to apply for a project coordination grant worth 1,200 euros. Derived from the will of the Students Association, this form of integration for those who arrive, on the part of those who are here, has created such a network of work that the Faculty wanted to sediment the credibility and usefulness of the initiative.
Romila has been with Solvin'it since its first edition: she started as a participant and enjoyed it so much that she decided to become a monitor. She joined the organising committee and now takes on the role of grantee and coordinator, following Solvin'it in an increasingly responsible manner.
João, what importance do you give to this partnership between the Faculty and Project Mentoring?
João Valente: Since this partnership took place (between AEFML and FMUL), I found this move to be very important. Often the contact between students and Faculty is narrowed to the classroom environment, becoming the only connection with the Institution. It is important how the Faculty invests in the relational component among students. Mentoring is a very positive way to integrate them into the Faculty itself.
And on a personal level, what importance does the Project have?
João Valente: I joined, not only for believing in the project, but also because I thought I could make a difference. I was totally on alert when we received an e-mail from the Faculty where they mentioned the opening of a vacancy for coordinator. A joint work to be done with the Students Association.
Rita, this means that João takes on a role of Co-coordination with the Faculty along with AEFML, is that it?
Rita Sobral: Yes, João has a closer articulation with me as part of the Faculty, but there is still another interaction with Marco Tomás coordinator of the AEFML area. The three of us meet, but mostly the meetings are between me and João where we assess the current situation of this articulation.
João Valente: It is also important to talk about the articulation with the Organising Committees, because they were the origin of this creation and closely follow this evolution (CO-MENT and COSI). Then, emphasising that the Faculty's investment in this grant, where they focus and trust a particular student, so that we can further develop the work of Mentoring, also shows to the entire student population the relevance that this project and Solvin'it have for the Institution. And analysing the immediate progress of this effort, it seems to me that Solvin'it has had a faster growth, because it factors the professors' commitment as well. Even so, the growth and enrichment of Mentoring are also well-known, as they went further and created new connections abroad and with new colleges, through the Portuguese Mentoring Network. And now with Mentoring 2.0 there was a huge boom; ourselves and the Student Association alone would not get that far.
What is the difference between Mentoring and Mentoring 2.0?
João Valente: Mentoring has been going on for 5 years. It is a mentoring project in which students who have just arrived at the Faculty end up with a mentor who will be in a more advanced year and, therefore, has already gone through what the mentoree will be going through, or something similar. These newcomers, in addition to the 1st-year - 1st-time students in Higher Education, also include students who come from the University of Madeira (where they started the study programme) and who are integrated directly in the 3rd year, as well as bachelor's programme candidates. The main goal of Mentoring is to promote a better integration in Higher Education, in the city and in the Institution itself, tackling the difficulties that may be felt.
Mentoring 2.0is a professional mentoring project. Here the mentors are Common Year Interns, Speciality Interns and even Medical Specialists. The mentorees are students from the clinical years, that is, between the 4th and the 6th year. In this pilot year, we had more than 120 entrants, mentorees and mentors. The main goal is to show the reality of the profession and the various possible paths after the study programme ends, while giving students the opportunity to see up close the specialities of their interest.
Mentoring's big help is with the integration: at any point of the study programme, one can help in this environment, but then, by extension, there is also great help in terms of study. And this year we had another important improvement: the integration of graduates in this project. They are mostly older people who come from other study programmes and who did not have a habit of enrolling in Mentoring. This school year we had a meeting with them, we went to the opening session to introduce the Project. The fact is, over half of them signed up. We've had a variety of cases, some who chose older mentors, who would apparently have more experience and others that didn't care about having younger mentors, who are actually closer in terms of school years. The feedback was very positive!
Rita Sobral: They attended many of our activities. This year our concern, rather than just the first-year/first-timers in higher education, was to look out for students regardless of their origins or experience at the Faculty. And we need to be even more considerate about the future in these situations, regardless of the level of education. This is because we are still highly focused on the first cycles, but the truth is that even Master's degree students have difficulties in integrating. Even PhD students are giving us feedback to show that they would like to be integrated in some way.
Romila, introduces us to Solvin'ít?
Romila Ismail: It's a peer teaching, project, which means education with peers. It's made by students for students, where they informally exchange knowledge, improving the student's trajectory in their academic life. We created sessions where there is exchange of information from an older monitor who had "divine inspiration" on that subject and wanted to give a bit of himself to the students who want to know more. This is all reliant on the Institutes and the Tutors, whose support, year after year, is ever growing and engaging. It's taking on a strategy that, despite not replacing theoretical or practical classes, supplements and motivates the study.
Rita Sobral: Anyone who wants to be a Solvin'it monitor has to learn communication strategies and have adequate training. It's with their peers and with the Medical Education Department that they work, it's where they are trained to know how to be a good monitor, give feedback and earn the tools that allow them to demand more quality later on.
Does this mean that Solvin'it has validation from the professors?
Romila Ismail: All the information that is given to the participants is first validated with the Professor or Assistant that we call tutor. This tutor validates all of our powerpoints, questions, and evaluation sheets. Therefore, there's no bypassing the professors; it's after their approval that we begin our work.
Also regarding the students' integration, here's a fun fact: Whatever age group they are in, people do not shy away from asking for help with integration. It's a good sign, isn't it?
Rita Sobral: There was an idea that Mentoring was only for the newcomers, the young ones, and this approach with the Madeira students, even before they arrived, helped in changing this notion. It made people much more uninhibited. It's curious that at the graduates' meeting there was a person who was already internal and who had entered Medicine under this scheme. They argued that there's no shame in having someone 10 years younger helping and casually mentoring.
And what exactly does this annual grant allow you to do?
João Valente: As it has an annual budget of 1,200 euros, each month I receive 100 euros and that's basically due to the fact that I am working on the project development as co-coordinator. In addition to this joint coordination and development, I am also in the Student Support Office, where I follow a schedule to greet Mentoring participants, enrol in the Project, solve mentoring-mentoree problems, solve any doubts, issue and provide workshop certificates, as well as some material needed for some Mentoring training, etc. It happened a lot in the beginning of the year, individually addressing mentors who had not been able to go to the enlightenment sessions. I was able to have more talks with them, which allowed them to focus on the course of action, resulting in an increase in the adhesion to Mentoring. Additionally, and among many other things, in both semesters we developed a survival kit for our new students, where we give tips on "how to survive," not only in the Faculty, but also in the city itself, since many of them are not from around here.
Rita Sobral: Allow me to add some important initiatives for student integration:
The importance of Space S that focuses heavily on the issues associated with faculty integration and stress and anxiety management but also goes beyond integration. The goal here is to act preventively and not only on actions after they occur. For example, Displaced Day was an initiative of Space S, with the support of Mentoring, and intended to promote an afternoon with all those displaced.
But there is also another interesting aspect which is the promotion of cross-cutting competences among peers (soft skills). Case in point: "stress management," "time management" and "emotional management" with the collaboration of the Psychiatry and Mental Health Service of HSM, all forms of integration to make people feel more understood. In fact, there's an increased concern on behalf of GAE to bring these three areas together (Mentoring, Solvin'it and Space S), with an eye on actions across the board.
Rita, one thing that is noticeable and that you convey is that this care with others goes far beyond these doors. Right now you are involved in Talks and meetings that transcend the life of this Faculty.
Rita Sobral: The Portuguese peer mentoring network started at an international congress, where some projects were invited to demonstrate their good practices, Mentoring was among them. It went so well or so badly that we were invited to attend a second meeting. EXARP, which was promoted by the General Directorate of Higher Education, contacted me, saying that they really enjoyed the initiative and would like to start organising activities with us. 1 Mentoring has already received an Exarp seal of approval and Solvin'it is now being considered. This means that we have public recognition of a good practice of integration in higher education and that is very important. There was, in fact, an institutional concern for the various projects involved plus those invited to participate, among other meetings, to outline a Portuguese mentoring network, even before the integration concern. We all have common concerns, but with some differences, Aveiro is very concerned about the integration of international students, Porto's faculty gives great focus to the integration of minorities. These may not be pressing issues for us, but we acknowledge that for one reason or another we'll have to start giving them more focus. There is another interesting fact: Mentoring is the only project that was not institutional. While in other universities and faculties it started as an institutional initiative, here it was born with the students. And this was widely recognised. Right now the network is official, with its launch on 27 March, in the presence of the Secretary of State. At this moment, more than a website, or a network to share good practices, we want to go further and we will have the second international seminar of mentoring networks, at the University of Aveiro, where the founding entities will participate, new entities will sign the charter and international projects will be invited.
João, from your 1st year to the current 4th, when you look at the topic of integration, do you see significant changes?
João Valente: I do, even by the number of students interested in this topic - which has been growing a lot. In my first year of college, the project had already been around for 2 years and it was in a very early state. But it had such a big impact on people that they wanted to be part of it and not abandon it. It's interesting because we have a pool of people (4th and 5th year) who apparently would not have so much desire to welcome people from the first year, but the fact is that they still want to participate.
This year alone, in one just semester, Solvin'it reached the total number of participants of last year. In addition to this datum, there were 17 new sessions, with up to 3 tutors in some areas.
Solvin'it, Mentoring and even Space S come together with the purpose of integration, respecting each one's individuality, establishing the best forms of help and interaction with others, in an increasingly personalised way.
They thrived because they listened attentively to what the students wanted. Through evaluation forms, they were able to establish starting points, aspiring to new goals. This didn't stop them from suggesting new approaches, giving rise to new paths and perspectives, even without being requested, proof that they acknowledge a role of responsibility in anticipating their own events. This coordination team emphasizes that Solvin'it and Mentoring exist because they have the help of several volunteers, especially the Organising Committees, who are willing to work in a team to make a well-oiled machine. This is how the projects have worked and increased.
In the near future, it is important for the Student Support Office to extend the integration spectrum to other areas; minorities, or international students will be the next steps. Also, our students who are studying abroad deserve greater attention, since there's a mechanism designed to implement consultations with a Space S psychologist via Skype and remotely, in order to maintain the connection with their roots.
Romila Ismail, 22 years, is a Portuguese national who, at age 1 and for 18 years, went to live with her parents in Maputo, Mozambique. She has always studied in a Portuguese school and says that since she can remember she has always wanted to be a doctor. But this aspiration wasn't enough: she wanted to be a doctor at Santa Maria. She remembers coming with her grandfather to the hospital's appointments, looking at everything and seeing herself there. The daughter of an economist and a housewife mother, she never had doctors in her family. Passionate about what she does, she would like to follow clinical practice, despite talking about the students' difficult situation, who do not get to follow their desired areas. She would like to be a Teaching Assistant, because she takes teaching very seriously; after all, she coordinates Solvin'it.. .
João Valente is 22 years old and although he has no doubts about his aptitude towards Health, he has always liked to associate it with Communication. He says that was the puzzle he set up for his future. It is the importance of knowing how to speak and listen to others that made him look at the Media as a bright light he couldn't ignore. This may explain his role in Mentoring. João does not dissociate care and good interaction with others, with the necessary ambivalence that the doctor needs to have to be a true physician. That's right, a physician, as he's also following clinical practice. He says that he has lived with excellent examples in the Faculty, Professors and Doctors, which strengthen this idea of a common path, "I look at them and think, I want to turn out that way when I grow up." From the puzzle between human and clinical interactions, he says that he may move away from surgeries because he's less "hands on" and more of an active listener.