Each year the GAF team travels throughout Australia to meet commencing and ongoing scholars at our various partner institutions. However, this year with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions, these in-person networking events were unable to go ahead.
However, we felt it was important to stay connected with the GAF community and find a way to allow our scholars to connect with each other. Consequently, we decided to engage with our scholars virtually, arranging online networking events through Zoom.
Our community's experience
While the impact of COVID-19 varied across states, many of our scholar cohorts experienced social distancing and lockdown measures that left them unable to attend campus and heavily impacted their day-to-day lives.
During these virtual events, we learnt about the challenges facing our community, such as transitioning to online learning, isolation, loneliness, disruption of plans and loss of jobs and opportunities.
Individually each scholar faced unique circumstances. While some scholars were unable to carry out work-integrated learning or internships, others – such as a scholar in a mental health support role and another deployed with the Army Reserves – were frontline workers supporting our community. We were impressed by the resilience and strength of our community.
A focus on mental health
Concerned about the sudden changes the pandemic brought to so many aspects of our scholars’ lives, we encouraged them to prioritise their mental health and wellbeing.
Scholars were encouraged to pause and take stock of the emotions characterising their everyday experience, to reach out to those around them, to form healthy mental habits such as mindfulness and if needed, access the health and wellbeing services at their universities.
During Melbourne’s stage four lockdown, Swinburne Senior Lecturer Dr Michelle Lim spoke at our Swinburne scholar meetup about loneliness; it’s impact on health and wellbeing and the importance of meaningful connections.
In turn, our scholars shared their advice and tips for cultivating mental wellbeing. We found these tips and approaches so inspiring that we have compiled them to share as a valuable resource on the GAF website.
Strengths of online events
Online events provided a safe way to come together at a time when being socially distant was critical to keeping safe. These safe and inclusive events surpassed geographical distance, allowing scholars to connect and presented the GAF team with a richer understanding of the scholars’ experiences. The GAF team intends to capitalise on the success of these virtual events.
In the future, we will expand the calendar of online GAF events, striving to connect GAF scholars from our different partner universities in a national engagement program. We also plan to provide our community with more resources to help them achieve their goals.