Three weeks to go….

After the flurry of ongoing posts introducing some of the mentors who are making up the brave team willing to launch the Art History Buddy Scheme this year, I thought it might be of interest to take a step back and report on some of the things which have been happening since we launched the blog just over a month ago. After all, one of the boldly stated objectives of this blog is to share the highs and lows of this jouney into peer mentoring.

To be honest, more highs than lows so far. The enthusiasm for the scheme and response to my calls for bits and bobs  from the mentors has been phenomenal, but then, that does not surprise me. Some of the students involved are now going into their third year, and I have had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know some of them quite well, especially those who went on a Study Trip to Rome with me this Easter. So I know that I am working with exceptionally talented and committed students who are a real asset to the Department of Art History. In many ways, when the students talk about the passion for the subject and their love of being here, only part of this feel-good factor is due to anything we, the staff, the Department, the School, the University are doing- yes, we give a structure and framework and dangle opportunities in front of the students, but not everybody is willing to embrace these opportunities. What makes our students stand out is precisely their willingness to give things a go, and in doing so, they change the atmosphere, and ‘any old department’ becomes ‘THEIR department’.

I am very much hoping that the Buddy Scheme will help to foster this sense of achievement and belonging even earlier, and will signal to the incoming first years that basically, this degree at Nottingham is a framework for them that could allow them to truly excel, and not necessarily just in an academic way. The Department will see to it that academically, students are stretched and challenged- we are proud of teaching to an extremely high level, we are proud of being a department that excels at what it does, but it’s not necessarily just the academic experience that makes going to University so important. It is the transition that turns pupils into students and hopefully, active and responsible citizens, that matters. The more a student puts into their degree, the more they get out. Yes, a trite and commonplace saying but oh so true. If the Buddy Schme helps some students to recognise their potential sooner, if it makes something click into place quicker, then surely, that is an achievement already.

But enough of my aspirations for this, what about the good honest graft that has taken place so far?

Well, we now have a Facebook page dedicated to the venture, which has been great in facilitating communication between the mentors and myself. While I am in Nottingham getting ready for term, goodness knows just where my students are. They are a mobile lot at the best of times but during the summer? Anybody’s guess, but we have been able to communicate quite effectively through Facebook.

The logo has been finalised; after all, an Art History project does definitely need a visual presence, and the idea of a jigsaw appealed. Not to mention the very tasteful colour combination….

The logo will be used on special hoodies made up for the mentors, so that they become easily identifiable. I also hope that our special hoodies will foster a sense of identity amongst the mentors; this is the first time we are undertaking this sort of scheme, and there will be the aforementioned highs and lows to contend with, but with the hoodies, we will contend with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in a stylish way at least!

The hoodies are ordered, and will hopefully make it here in time for the beginning of term. I may mention that ordering bespoke hoodies- while exciting if it turns out well- has been one of the lows of the project so far. I am considerably better at Venetian archives and their interpretations than at choosing the right polyester/cotton mix for hoodies, never mind dealing with the differences between heatseal transfers and embroidery. On the plus side, I have learnt something! If all else fails, dealing with project garments may need to be delelgated if I have to do this again (note to self). I should mention that the hoodies are funded by a grant from the University of Nottingham Impact Campaign, and we are very grateful for support from the University and from the School of Humanities! The grant will also enable us to hold a couple of group meetings with all mentors and mentored students that are catered, and I am told, if we budget carefully, the money may stretch to providing not just any cake for these meetings  but chocolate cake  (note that accounting and budgeting may therefore be deemed amongst the transferable skills implicit in this project….)

But back to the task in hand. We have launched our own Twitter account @UoNArtH_Mentors and we’d love more followers. At the moment, we have 12, so arthistorybuddyscheme hasnt quite succeeded in trending yet, but there is hope!

And for the mentors, the scheme has become an accredited module for the Nottingham Advantage Award, so the mentors are going to be able to be recognised for the hard work they are doing.

So, dates are set, blog, Facebook account and Twitter are in place, hoodies and choclate cakes are ordered, meetings are scheduled. In a way, we are almost ready to go with one vital component of the scheme still needing to fall into place- the incoming students! All students commencing a degree with Art History in 2012/13 (and this includes the Single Honours as well as the Joint Honours programmes) were sent information about the scheme a couple of weeks ago, and have been invited to express an interest in participating. Responses are just starting to come in, so at this stage, the sample of responses I have ready is too small to allow to arrive at valid conclusions, so I will save this for another blog entry. What I can say though, even at this early stage, is that the take-up for the scheme seems to be 100%, so the interest in peer mentoring is there. In the statements accompanying the forms, the incoming students speak lucidly of apprehension, about change mingled with excitement, and some express very clearly that what bothers them most is not necessarily the academic work but fitting into the framework.  Which brings us back to the jigsaw logo?

So, this is where things have got to at this point; wish us luck!

Gabriele Neher




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