Virtual activities encourage student connections
Since fall 2019, Andrea McCluskey has been hosting a weekly quilting workshop for international and Indigenous students, an extension of a mentorship program designed to welcome and connect new students.
While she’s quilted through UWinnipeg’s Aboriginal Student Services Centre (ASSC) for many years, this is the first time that international students have joined in.
And when campus closed in March due to the COVID-19 situation, it was also time to add a new twist to a longstanding tradition — offering virtual support to eager quilters like Guilherme Wolff, an international student from Brazil.
Wolff – who lives in residence – stayed connected with McCluskey, exchanging photos and instruction by email to complete his quilt.
“Quilting actually helps a lot,” said Wolff. “While a lot of things got cancelled, I was still able to work on something meaningful and see a physical result.”
McCluskey is thrilled that Wolff has enjoyed the experience as much as she has. She learned the craft from her mother and says sharing the skill not only fosters community, it teaches resilience.
She also remembers her own experience as the first person in her family to attend university – and how isolating that felt. This memory fuels her determination to provide UWinnipeg Indigenous and international students with a home away from home, and ensure they have the supports and connections they need to succeed.
With the physical campus buildings closed, McCluskey says it’s more important than ever to stay connected online. She meets virtually with her own team at ASSC on a regular basis. Three times a week they are joined by the staff from UWinnipeg’s International, Immigrant and Refugee Student Services (IIRSS) department. The two groups work closely, sharing ideas and strategies to help current students through this transition, as well as reaching out to incoming students.
“The people I work with closely have really been making the effort to stay connected,” said McCluskey. “We want to make sure students know that we are here for them.”
While virtual meetings and email exchanges can’t fully replace the warmth of in-person contact, they do help to ensure that important connections — which form valuable relationships for new students — continue to be made during this time of increased isolation
“There are champions on campus that blow my mind,” McCluskey said. “So many people go above and beyond to make sure students come first. It’s just amazing, the compassion and humanity we’re seeing.”
Jennifer Cox, Communications Officer, The University of Winnipeg
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