Last summer I carried out a week placement with LEAPS (Lothian Equal Access Programme for Schools) as a student mentor for their High Flyers Program. The program provides around 40 local S4 students the chance to stay in university halls to gain insight into the life of a university student.
My role was being in charge of a group of 10 students, leading activities and generally giving them information about student life. LEAPS carry out several events both in and outside of local schools with lower progression into Higher Education, helping teenagers to have more of an insight into university as a potential option.
I applied to the job through the university’s Careers Service, and after filling out the application form progressed to the next stage. This involved a group assessment, where we were given several tasks within groups as well as a one on one interview. The assessment was mainly to see how you worked within a team, but also to test your leadership skills. The interview was actually on my birthday, so thankfully I was successful!
The daily schedule was intense, as we visited each of the four universities in Edinburgh every day. This was really useful as it gave the students an insight into the differences and similarities between the different universities, rather than “selling” one university’s strong points.
The schedule involved waking up at 7 am for breakfast in Pollock Halls, and then straight into the activities for the day. These included workshops and lectures for the students in various different subjects, as well as fun activities such as a tour of the underground vaults near the Cowgate. The evenings were then spent having dinner, and an evening activity was normally arranged, such as a group quiz although this varied day-to-day. As the trip was short, LEAPS made sure that every minute was used wisely but also made sure the student mentors were given a break if they ever needed it.
For me, the best part of the job was meeting a really interesting group of teenagers and finding out what they wanted to potentially study at university and helping to give some advice on what to expect. It can be daunting being on a residential trip not knowing many people, and watching the group come out of their shell was really rewarding. I think the perception of a university student when you’re a teenager can be quite intimidating, and being able to interact with them daily helped to get rid of any negative preconceptions they may have had.
I would definitely recommend getting involved with the kind of work that LEAPS do if you have an interest in social mobility and access to Higher Education. I would say a main piece of advice when working with teenagers is to just be yourself, they’ll recognise that you’re more similar to them and therefore respect the advice you give much more. I think the worst thing you could do when being in charge of a group is to be patronising, so striking the balance between authority and being friendly is very important.
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