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The Office of Widening Participation at Western Sydney University delivers more than 50 programs in schools and around the university that aim to increase young people's educational engagement and aspirations for higher study. These programs are particularly focused on students from low SES backgrounds, and equity groups identified by the Bradley Review (2008) into higher education. These are supported by WSU students who have received training as Student Ambassadors. Although evaluations of specific programs and impacts on school students have been undertaken, there has never been a focus on the Student Ambassadors themselves, on their experiences and perceptions of the program, and the impact of their contributions. This evaluation aims to fill that gap.
The Student Ambassadors deliver programs to ensure that educational and life pathways are open to young people of all backgrounds and circumstances; however Student Ambassadors’ own experiences within these programs and the impact of program participation on their own academic, social and civic outcomes has, thus far, been overlooked. Many of the Student Ambassadors themselves have experienced challenges to participation in higher education that parallel those of the school students with whom they work. Further, participation in the program as Student Ambassadors is likely to enhance their own engagement in higher education. Accordingly, the purpose of this project was to evaluate the impact of Western Sydney University students’ participation in the WP Student Ambassadors program in terms of their self-efficacy beliefs, academic and professional resilience, professional skill development, civic and social awareness, connectedness to community and academic outcomes.
These dimensions of impact were evaluated through a mixed-method, multi-cohort evaluation over the course of the 2016 academic year. As one of the aims of this research project was to explore how engaging with low-SES/high-need primary and secondary school students as role models may have influenced their sense of civic and social responsibility, this research can directly inform the future practice of WP program in increasing students' sense of community connections with the Western Sydney University academic community as well as the broader Western Sydney region.