JCU Together – maintaining connection and support through isolation

Ms Louise Myers1

1James Cook University

JCU International Student Support team successfully provided material and social support during the COVID lockdown period and throughout the remainder of 2020. Support ranged from the establishment and expansion of a food pantry for students in financial hardship through to online student engagement and social activities throughout lockdown.

Like many international students across Australia, JCU students faced an abrupt loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Very early on, the JCU International Student Support team was concerned about students being unable to afford to eat, as well as the social and mental health repercussions of the enforced isolation on an already vulnerable group of students. The Food Pantry was a practical way to support students in reducing the everyday costs of groceries and it provided an opportunity to ‘check-in’ with students, in person, every week. The Food Pantry has supported up to 190 students a week since March with approximately $60,000 spent on groceries to date. Funding for the Food Pantry came from a number of different sources including redirected Student Services and Amenities Fees, grants from Allianz and St Vincent De Paul, Study Queensland Meals for Mates program, donations from the community, and JCU staff and alumni.

Our team was able to remain connected with our international student cohort and support them during the challenging period of COVID lockdown through online engagement activities, competitions and live broadcasts via our Facebook groups. During the isolation period, our online activities saw over 8000 engagements with students in the form of posts, comments and likes.
We quickly learned to adapt not only the type of support and method of delivery, but also the need to be open to new ideas and to ‘give things a go’. In the unprecedented times we embraced the opportunity to try unprecedented ideas. This approach required our team to be flexible and to continually pivot and realign as circumstances changed and new problems developed. We also learned that international students are often more resilient than they are given credit for and are very appreciative of the support provided.

Moving forward, the JCU International Student Support team will continue to be flexible to meet the material and social needs of our students. And while the pandemic restrictions may be easing, the innovation the team showed throughout the lockdown period will not be forgotten, but will now be included as integral to our practice in supporting students.

Video thanking the community for supporting the food pantry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0BlRn-_4C4
Townsville JCU Internationals group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/174369722979255/
Cairns JCU Internationals group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1413532265326241/

Louise Myers is the Manager of the International Student Support team at James Cook University in Cairns and Townsville. She oversees the support services to more than 1,000 international students from over 100 different countries. With a Bachelor of International Business and a teaching qualification, Louise is uniquely qualified to understand the needs of international students. She spent many years as a teacher in the Torres Strait Islands and in North Queensland before transitioning to the tertiary sector in 2013.
Louise established JCU’s highly successful PASS program and was Resident Director for International Study Abroad Students in Townsville before commencing in her current role working with Team Awesome.

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