25 November 2020Share
The Living and Learning Communities (LLC) team has been awarded a Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award for Excellence in Student Experience. This award acknowledges the services and support they provide to students at residences in Ballarat, Canberra and Sydney.
Administrative Officer Communications, Monica Bordignon, Accommodation Coordinators Rebecca Riley and Howard Costello, Program Administrator Benjamin Todd and Administration Officers Anne-Marie Yates and Karen Grech have been recognised for continuing to improve and evolve all aspects of residential services.
In the early days of COVID-19, the LLC team implemented the Rental Advisory Service due to the large number of enquiries from students, particularly international students, who were experiencing rental issues as a result of financial impacts of the pandemic.
The Rental Advisory Service has assisted more than 30 students to date. Staff provide students with advice on how to access financial supports through ACU and/or the relevant state government, how to negotiate a rent reduction with landlords to avoid eviction, and other rental advice.
LLC and ACU International approached Catholic Religious Australia, which helped identify alternative accommodation for students in crisis through local parishes in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. Manager Living and Learning Communities (LLC), Simone Gallo, says a number of students faced imminent homelessness and her team supported students to be placed in local emergency accommodation provided by CRA and Faculty.
“When COVID-19 hit we knew it was going to be difficult for international students,” Simone said. “The Federal Government was doing nothing at that time to support this cohort and the advice given was for them to go home if they could. However, something most people don’t realise is that international money transfers from some countries were also cut at that time, so even if support could be offered from home, our students couldn’t access it.”
Additionally, all LLC staff remained on campus through the COVID-19 pandemic to provide support and assistance to all residents.
Simone says, “The team were absolute superheroes during that period. Not one of them ever said, ‘I don’t want to stay here’, or were more worried about themselves.”
The team has also lobbied the NSW Government for inclusion in a scheme to help provide crisis accommodation for international students.
“We now house 71 students suffering housing crisis due to the COVID pandemic in our Camperdown property, Miguel Cordero Residence. They are not all from ACU, but it is extremely rewarding to be a part of these students’ story of survival at this time. These students have been a wonderful addition to our community, providing our domestic residents the chance to learn about their different cultures and languages through our Residential Life events,” says Simone.
“We’re only a team of six people including student residential advisors, but COVID-19 has broadened all of our horizons to see what we can do to support students. We’re now a part of a broader higher education inter-agency community to assist with both short-term and longer-term solutions for international students, who are so often overlooked in accommodation planning.”
The student accommodation team continues to improve and evolve its service to both domestic and international students through a number of initiatives.
In support of the Respect. Now. Always. Campaign, and together with the Office of Student Success and ACU Sport, the team has delivered Bystander Awareness training to students to help prevent harmful behaviours and create respectful and inclusive residential communities.
In collaboration with ACU Engagement and Campus Ministry, LLC continuously provide opportunities for students to become value-oriented individuals and be of service to their communities through activities such as the annual Welcome Bazaar and Random Acts of Kindness.
The Residential Life Program further ensures that each resident is provided with a positive, engaging and rewarding experience which is based on the Jesuit model and encompasses ACU’s mission, vision and values. Residents also receive direct access to academic support as well as peer-to-peer study sessions through the Academic Skills Unit. Data from these programs show that residential students receive 13 per cent higher marks, on average, than non-residential students in their first year of study.
The Indigenous Accommodation Award – a result of the collaboration between LLC, and the First Peoples and Equity Pathways’ Indigenous Success Program – was brought to life in 2017. Every year, participant students lead events where they share their culture with their residential community as a leadership activity.
Simone loves watching the growth each student experiences, and the way the activity fosters community and encourages each person to come out of their shell.
It’s this focus on the student that inspires the team to do such excellent work, Simone says.
“To be a part of the journey from when students move in to when they leave, which can be bumpy, and to connect them to the services they need on the road to achieving the ACU Graduate Attributes – that is why we do what we do. That’s what makes ACU different – the students are at the heart of everything we do.”
LLC Team, from left to right – Howard Costello, Anne-Marie Yates, Simone Gallo and Monica Bordignon