First-year students in the Department of Child and Youth Studies (CHYS) gathered earlier this winter to build skills, confidence and community.
The annual CHYS Boot Camp, which took place Saturday, Jan. 28, has been offered for almost a decade to students in the department who, often unexpectedly, find themselves struggling with the challenges of university and aren’t sure how to get back on track after Fall Term.
Associate Professor Danielle S. Molnar, Canada Research Chair in Adjustment and Well-being in Children and Youth, currently leads the Boot Camp organizing committee. She says that all of the regular challenges of transitioning to university life have been compounded by the disruptions to learning and socializing caused by the global pandemic.
“There are two competing narratives around students and the COVID-19 pandemic that are completely contradictory, where on the one hand, you have people talking about students having it easy during the pandemic because of pass/fail grades, and on the other hand, we talk about how much harder it has been because of the lack of connection and direct supports,” she says. “The students are caught between these two stories and can feel like a failure no matter what they do, which is really difficult for them.”
This year’s Boot Camp, held in person for the first time since 2019, featured workshops on key skills such as time management, stress management, essay writing and general best practices for navigating a degree.
Students who provided feedback after the event said they were pleased to learn about the supports that are available to them and that they valued the information and advice as well as the chance to interact with peers and members of the department.
But the sessions that resonated most were the panel discussions where students and faculty members shared their own experiences, challenges and journeys. Survey respondents said they felt validated by these panel discussions, which opened and closed the day.
“It’s really important for the students to build connection when they’re feeling alone,” says Molnar, who participated in the faculty panel alongside Assistant Professors Chelsea Jones and Heather Ramey. “A lot of us struggle in first and second year — I did, personally, so I can relate.”
Molnar has also observed in the years since Professor Fran Owen (now retired), Professor Rebecca Raby and Department Co-ordinator and Academic Advisor Alison Lahn staged the first CHYS Boot Camp that the benefits of the student-focused intervention can have a ripple effect across the department and through the years of a student’s time in their program.
“Participants tend to get more involved — more likely to join clubs or activities and become part of the Brock community,” says Molnar. “It’s great, because a big part of Boot Camp is trying to foster connections not just academically, but within the broader community so that students feel more at home and more comfortable with seeking help.”
A team of organizers, speakers and volunteers from the department’s faculty, staff and students worked hard to pull together the event after a few years of online activities.
Almost 30 students took part, and the organizers hope to increase capacity next year to get closer to pre-pandemic levels.
On behalf of the committee, Molnar says the effort was — and is always — worthwhile.
“Over the past decade, we’ve seen many students who entered Boot Camp and were really struggling, feeling really lost, leave with a smile on their face at graduation,” she says.