MATES for staff

MATES Program Overview 

MATES is a mentoring and transition program that supports commencing students in their first semester of university. 

The program objectives align with the Western Sydney University Securing Success 2015-2020 Strategic Plan [PDF, 3859.29 KB] (opens in a new window) as MATES aims to "provide accessible and personalised support services that meet student learning needs". 

Philosophy and theoretical background

Peer mentoring programs are becoming increasingly prevalent in the higher education sector as they are seen as an effective strategy to improve student transitions, engagement, retention and success (Shojai, Davis, & Root, 2014). 

Participation in MATES is voluntary and the program is open to all commencing students. The inclusive, non-remedial focus takes an interactive approach that builds relationships and capital amongst students from equity groups and the general student population (van der Meer & Scott, 2013), thus the program provides an intervention that is protective and strengthening of all students.

MATES is underpinned by constructivist and social learning theories, which identify social interactions between peers as a major factor in learning. The program connects commencing students with peer mentors who are experienced, successful students. Mentors act as friendly advisers, providing "guidance and support" (Terrion & Leonard, 2007, p.149) to new students. Mentors show new students how to be a university student and navigate the university learning environment. Mentoring often takes place in small group settings, which allows new students to learn from other commencing students' questions and have their transition experiences and emotions normalised.

The program also aligns with self determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000), which asserts that students will develop positive forms of motivation for learning if their needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are met. Student autonomy is met as participation in the program is voluntary and new students choose a mentor who best suits their unique needs. New students' competence is supported by providing access to mentors who are knowledgeable and who can refer them to the university's resources and support services. Mentors' competence is supported by providing ongoing training in mentoring skills. The program supports students' relatedness by encouraging face-to-face and online social interactions.

Finally, MATES encourages new students and mentors to develop a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006) by embracing challenges, learning from mistakes, persisting in the face of obstacles, utilising feedback and developing strategies to help their learning.

Student participation

In Autumn 2015, 930 commencing students and 120 student mentors participated in MATE, which was a 39.25% increase from Autumn 2014 participation numbers.

340 of these commencing students joined a mentor group in vUWS and became mentees. This represents a 21% increase in students who were connected with a mentor from Autumn 2014. Student who did not join a mentor group accessed wrap-around support through weekly just in time emails, check in phone calls and the MATES private Facebook group.

Student experience with MATES

Program evaluation surveys provide strong evidence of students' positive experiences with MATES.

77.48% of new student/mentee survey respondents agree or strongly agree MATES is beneficial for first year students and 74.83% would recommend the MATES program to other new students.

86.31% of mentor survey respondents agree or strongly agree MATES is beneficial for mentors and 90.42% would recommend other students become mentors.

These figures are supported by a plethora of positive student comments about their experiences as mentees and mentors.

Further evidence of the program's impact includes the increase in confidence that student participants report at the program's conclusion. New students who participated in MATES report they are significantly more confident in eight knowledge and skill areas after participating in the program than they were prior to their involvement in MATES. These include:

  • Finding my way around campus
  • Knowing how to navigate the online systems (i.e. MySR ,vUWS)
  • Knowing who to ask for help at University
  • Knowing the services and facilities available to students
  • Study skills and strategies
  • Time Management and organisation skills Interpersonal skills – meeting people and making friends
  • Overall self-confidence

These eight areas have been identified in higher education research as important to students' success at university (Bowles, Fisher, McPhail, Rosenstreich & Dobson, 2014; Kift, 2009; Wilson, 2009).

Similarly, later years students who participated as peer mentors report they are significantly more confident in five areas including leadership, communication, interpersonal and organisation/time management skills. These skills have been identified as underpinning the Western Sydney University graduate attributes; therefore, MATES can be said to contribute to students' employability.

MATES s evaluated at the end of each program and recommendations that are identified in the program evaluation reports are acted upon, resulting in continual improvement of the student experience.

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Contact us

For more information about the MATES program please send an email to mates@westernsydney.edu.au.