There’s no denying the enormous impact that COVID-19 has had on our university students. From adjusting to online learning and becoming experts in Zoom calls, to dealing with the financial struggle following job losses.
For our international students from over 90 countries, the added stress of being away from friends and family in their home country has also presented an emotional challenge, as they manage a changed world without their original support network close by.
Students are the lifeblood of UOW. They breathe energy and vibrancy into our campuses, they push the limits of thought and research, and work to make the world a better place.
UOW staff and the Illawarra community have come together to offer support and provide for our students during these tough and challenging times.
Financial assistance grant scheme
With students often working part-time jobs in the hospitality sector, the sudden closure of bars and dining outlets resulted in widespread job loss. Apart from the emotional impact this had, the financial impact has been devastating. Emergency funding was made available to all students to apply for in an attempt to ease some of these financial burdens. In semester one of 2020, more than 3,800 grants were given out to students, totalling more than $3.8 million. The grants will be extended into semester two.
Online community building and fun
The university experience is often defined by the people you meet in class and on campus. UniLife didn’t miss a beat and quickly created unique and engaging programs for students to reflect the vibrant campus environment.
UniLife Online includes events like Online Trivia, Bend and Chat Online (online yoga) plus many clubs and societies took to the world wide web to conduct virtual meet-ups, debates, language practice and cooking classes. They even share their secret recipe for a 5 minute berry smoothie bowl!
Food donation drive
Local community organisations have also shown incredible support by providing free food and groceries, with volunteers, including UOW staff, jumping on board to help hundreds of students each week. This initiative has been running for more than three months, with 43 service events in Wollongong alone. Students have found it to be immensely supportive, with some of them returning to receive meals multiple times.
Turbans 4 Australia, the International Christian Church, Shining Star Foundation, Rotary Clubs of Corrimal and West Wollongong, Indian Australian Cultural Association, Shellharbour Community Church, Need a Feed, Keiraview Uniting Church and the St Vincent de Paul Society have all been generously providing fresh food, pantry items, toiletries and other groceries. These items are being handed out to students in Wollongong on Saturdays or sorted into packs and delivered to students across Sydney in Redfern, Liverpool, Strathfield and Blacktown.
It’s been a huge effort by all volunteers to ensure social distancing measures are maintained and that students are left happy and full!
UOW’s Community Engagement Coordinator, Clare Rhodes, has been involved in coordinating volunteers and says it’s been a mammoth effort.
Food donation - Image courtesy of the International Christian Church
In a time where basic pantry items became sparse at our local supermarkets, the UOW community came together to provide essentials to students in the form of pantry packs. More than 2,600 packs were put together by IGA for students across all campuses to include essentials like pasta, long life milk, rice, flour and noodles.
Staff even travelled up to locations like Strathfield and Liverpool to deliver the pantry packs to students so that students could avoid taking public transport.
Students who were unable to arrange a way to collect one of these pantry packs were provided gift cards for grocery stores to shop online.
Free mental health consultations
UOW’s Northfields Psychology Clinic swiftly moved to offering all consultations online and free of charge in response to the pandemic. Professor Peter Caputi, Head of UOW's School of Psychology said the clinic was responding to the needs of students and the community at a time when mental health support services were more important than ever.
The clinic is also running a HSC Wellbeing and Study Skills Program which is also online and free of charge, supporting Year 12 students to overcome their exam stress, manage performance anxiety, set goals and focus on effective study.
There are countless people dedicating their time, energy and money to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students on campus and studying remotely around the world. These times have certainly been challenging, but if there’s a silver lining to be found, it’s that the UOW and Illawarra community is strong, resilient and steps up during tough times.
Bachelor of Communications and Media - Bachelor of International Studies (Honours), 2018