Starting university is already a nerve-wracking experience, but to start the beginning of your four-year degree during a pandemic in the midst of social distancing restrictions, health guidelines, and mandatory quarantines is an experience to which no one can relate or even imagine.
With this as the current situation for incoming freshers at The University of St Andrews, Member for First Years, Maitreyi Tusharika has been hard at work to ensure that first years feel excited about September and have all their questions answered.
Elected in March 2020, Ms Tusharika is in her third year studying Economics and Management. But while many representatives for the Students’ Association are enjoying their summer off, the role of Member for First Years requires some of its most demanding work in these off months as students accept offers and begin to prepare for university.
Despite the unprecedented circumstances, Ms Tusharika noted that COVID-19 has not significantly affected her approach to supporting freshers as Member for First Years as “most of my initial manifesto catered to online establishment of information and contact.”
She added, “There are obviously increased concerns from Freshers around their first-year experience and how it will be impacted by social distancing and Covid-19 in general. I am constantly keeping an eye on the Coronavirus Information page for prospective students and communicating any information that is relevant to them.”
So far, Ms Tusharika has been working on creating a Digital Booklet for societies, which will include information on what they do, committee positions available, and contact information. As of the time of writing, her survey to societies for this information has seen 110 responses. The booklet will also include information on every hall of residence with pictures, student reviews on restaurants and amenities in the town, photos of every University building to make them easier to locate, and a guide to the different services and opportunities offered by the University.
She has also worked to ensure a group chat for every school and invited each school’s student president to join their respective chats in order “to have a personal opportunity to interact with them and answer their academic questions.” She believes that this has helped many freshers make friends amongst themselves and with current students ahead of starting university.
Additionally, after being elected in March, Ms Tusharika organised three different feedback polls to current students on the challenges of first year, factors which influenced their society choices, and the information failure for freshers to ensure her plans as Member for First Years were targeted to the issues that students needed to be covered.
One of the most notable initiatives not seen in years past has been the creation of a Class of 2024 Instagram page where students can introduce themselves.
On the inspiration for the Instagram, Ms Tusharika noted, “A prospective student from Dubai actually started the account. It’s quite common in American university culture to have an Instagram for introductions of the class. I thought it was a great idea as ‘Gen-z’ is more likely to use Instagram over Facebook, it has so much potential for information sharing, and avoided the clutter of intro posts that would otherwise happen every year on Facebook groups.”
The Instagram page, @standrews2024, currently has 1,804 followers and 470 posts from incoming first years and other informational posts from Ms Tusharika.
Starting on 1 July, the Instagram also began to feature society takeovers, with over 109 societies scheduled to introduce themselves directly to first years via social media over July and August. The last week of the takeover will be reserved for sabbatical officers to establish what their role is in the Union and how they will be involved in student life.
On the Instagram takeovers, Ms Tusharika explained, “As a student of economics, I have greatly concerned myself with problems of information gaps that I observed is quite prevalent in the university. Attending the freshers fayre (which was made further unlikely due to the pandemic) has been counter productive for me personally due to the overwhelming number of societies and people present in the union. I came to hear about wonderful societies at the end of my first year and felt there could be a better way for them to present themselves.”
She added, “I think [the takeovers] would benefit not just the freshers but any current student who would like to follow the page. Being able to ask them questions over text or just closely observe details and graphics around what they do should be a great way to make an informed decision on the societies.”
While the role sees the most pressing work over the summer months and in September, Ms Tusharika plans to continue her active presence to ensure every first year is adopted by an academic family, if Raisin is not postponed or cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, and represent first-year interests on the Students’ Representative Council.