Academic-led program creates sense of community for international and exchange students during the pandemic

In response to Australia’s international border closure in 2020, Monash University’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (FPPS) started an academic-led student engagement program to create an inclusive community for international and exchange students during a time of heightened isolation and uncertainty.

Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science students on Parkville campus, taken in 2019.

International students are typically less likely to seek help for mental ill-health and underutilise available support services. Recognising this, a team of student-facing staff from the FPPS knew that more would need to be done at a faculty level to ensure their international cohort felt supported throughout the upheaval of the pandemic.

The program was so successful the team has now received an Inter-Faculty Transformation Grant of $49,000 to support international students across six Monash faculties and two Monash Malaysia schools over the next two years.

In 2020, the FPPS program focused on three main areas: Communication, Social and Networking, and Wellbeing Activities. The three program founders each took on a leading role, including Dr Nilushi Karunaratne as the Academic-Student Liaison Lead, Dr Betty Exintaris as the Resilience Lead and Dr Suzanne Caliph as the Empathy Lead.

Orygen, a leading youth mental health organisation with expertise in education, research, policy and innovations in care, released a timely report in 2020, with a number of key recommendations to provide support for international students regarding their mental health and physical safety.

In the Monash project, the team directly addressed the recommendations provided by the Orygen report, including (but not limited to) regular academic-led meet-ups with students, newsletters and wellbeing days.

Dr Karunaratne, who is a lecturer at the FPPS said: “We’ve received a lot of really positive feedback from international students who have attended the regular zoom events we’ve put on to help them feel supported and connected. The program has been a big success for the FPPS, which is why we wanted to create this sense of belonging at each Monash faculty.”

“This project really does help to build community, create an inclusive environment that is conducive to academic learning and provides a conduit between international students and support services,” said Dr Exintaris who is a senior lecturer within the Drug Discovery Biology theme.

Professor Susan Elliott AM, Provost and Senior Vice-President, said: “The Monash Inter-Faculty Transformation Grant signifies Monash’s ‘call-to-action’ to work towards ensuring faculty environments are supportive and welcoming to all students from diverse backgrounds.”

“I extend my warm congratulations to the FPPS team for their efforts to support international and exchange students during such an unsettling time - we look forward to seeing the program rolled out across the University.”

Professor Sharon Pickering, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Senior Vice-President of Monash University, said: “The IFTG scheme offers funding to engage Monash staff in new ideas and approaches to learning based on evidence-led educational investigation, along with encouraging projects that have cross-Faculty impact - so the  FPPS team really have ticked all the boxes with their program.”

With the financial support offered by the grant, participating faculties will now extend beyond the FPPS to the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Science, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Engineering, and the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and School of Medicine and Health Sciences at Monash University Malaysia.

The success of the FPPS program was facilitated by the program-leads working closely with Alastair Thomas, the Senior Student Experience Officer at FPPS.

Contact: Kate Carthew, Media Manager

Phone: +61 438 674 814