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Q Success: easing the transition to university life

Q Success: easing the transition to university life

[photo of students involved in the Q Success program]

Q Sucess students in action

Transitioning from high school to university is one of several major life changes that can pose particular challenges for young people. To help ease this process, the Principal’s Commission on Mental Health calls for the development of formal and ­informal programs to foster resilience among ­students and assist them in learning how to manage stress, avoid isolation and build self-confidence.

With seed funding from benefactors Gregory David, Com’89, and Neil Rossy, Artsci’93, an ­innovative pilot program was introduced on campus in fall 2013. Q Success helps first-year students develop the skills to succeed, both academically and personally. Administered by the Division of Student Affairs, the co-curricular program is delivered by trained upper-year peers and Student ­Affairs learning strategists, writing specialists, counsellors and health promotion staff.

“In the pilot year, Q Success participants reported a number of positive impacts compared to their non-participant first-year peers,” says Dr. Arig al Shaibah, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs (Student Life and Learning). “One particularly ­reassuring finding is that after completing the ­program, participants reported greater awareness of the mental health resources available and the confidence to reach out for mental health support if and when they need it.”

Participants reported greater awareness of the mental health resources available and the confidence to reach out for mental health support if and when they need it.

Q Success participants are assigned to small groups and attend weekly sessions on topics that include:

  • how to cope with personal and academic challenges
  • aligning personal, career and ­academic interests and goals
  • study, writing and time-management skills
  • healthy living and mental health.

Upper-year mentors facilitate group discussion, share their personal and academic transition ­challenges and successes and guide ­students in ­developing their own learning plans to maximize their success at Queen’s.

“What really helped was knowing that there are others with the same fears and excitements about university,” says second-year student Natasha Williot. “Figuring out together how to deal with university life, whether it was about school, food or reducing stress, made it that much more comforting.”

The program has been of particular interest and benefit to self-reported first-generation students – those who are first in their family to attend a post-secondary institution – and to international students. A small group of students also participated in a group led by upper-year Aboriginal students and the Aboriginal success strategist at the university’s Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre.

In its second year, Q Success’s capacity was tripled to provide access to every first-year ­student who opted in. A program ­assessment is now under way, from which preliminary data are ­informing more enhancements for fall 2015. These include the re-introduction of an online version of Q Success, and the use of an ­empirically ­validated tool to measure ­participants’ “thriving quotient” – their academic ­engagement and performance, ­interpersonal ­relationships and their well-being.

The 2015 program will also be designed to evaluate more fully the impact of the in-class program on the diversity of ­participants, as well as the outcomes of the ­expanded online version. The research related to the online version is being ­supported by the Higher Education Quality ­Council of Ontario (HEQCO). Queen’s has been ­selected to join the HEQCO Access and Retention Consortium, a group of Ontario universities that is exploring promising transition programs.

[photo of Queen's staff, faculty and students with a sign "Focus on mental health"]