On a wintry January afternoon, we walked around the campus in Hämeenlinna and started talking about our wonderful students. We noticed that despite the distance, we have a lot of similar ways and means and ideas on how students’ well-being should be supported.
What kind of spaces for students do we have?
At Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK), we have a new student space called Panama at the Hämeenlinna University Centre. Panama opened in the autumn 2022, and it was made for a need; the students wanted a space where they could do group work, heat their food and just hang out with friends. We had two students from high school who made a plan about Panama. They interviewed our students and staff about their wishes for the space. And now we have a meeting place designed according to the users´ wishes, whose sofas are filled daily with students from different fields. The student union HAMKO and students themselves also plan and organize various events monthly.
At NHL Stenden our student space is called Central Perk, a Place of Diversity. It’s a living room for students of all study years and backgrounds. The purpose of Central Perk is to offer a place within our university where students can meet each other in an informal setting and talk about things other than school that keep them occupied. Its targets are having fun, creating a relaxed and cosy atmosphere, meeting new people, and supporting each other. Central Perk is staffed and run by students. There’s also NHL Stenden Pride, a group of students and staff aiming for NHL Stenden to be an LGBTIQ+ safe and friendly institute, where everyone feels welcome and respected. They organize activities and events and support students and staff who struggle with LGBTIQ+-related issues.
How else can we support well-being?
The well-being of students is influenced by a lot of different factors and can be supported in a lot of different ways. Besides having a nice place to meet like Panama and Central Perk, well-being is also about having the feeling you can master your study, being able to relax, and feeling mentally okay. One way we support our students on these topics is by offering all kinds of workshops and training, varying from study skill training to workshops and training for body & mind.
At NHL Stenden everything concerning student well-being and student success is brought together in our Student Success Centre. We offer courses and training, for example about yoga, fear of failure, procrastination, preparing & making exams efficiently, time management, supporting research skills, and language & writing skills. Our student counsellors are there to help students who get stuck in their studies for various reasons, and we offer online self-help modules on mental health. At Hämeenlinna University of Applied Sciences, we have Student Wellbeing Services, available on all HAMK campuses. HAMK offers the services of a special needs teacher, study psychologist, student welfare officer, and coordinator of sports services. They work in cooperation with tutor teachers, study counsellors, nurses, pastors, and everyone connected to student services. Student Wellbeing Services offers help with studies, life crises, learning difficulties, stress, etc.
Some students need or want to be challenged a little more. For those students, we also offer special programs at our universities. At NHL Stenden we have the X-Honours program for this. X-Honours is an extracurricular program for students who are open-minded, curious and want to go the extra mile. More and more, the program is also led by students of the program, who want to share their passions and experiences. The program is based on the following five pillars: personal leadership, entrepreneurship, multidisciplinary, innovative, and value driven. Next to these pillars, students have one free pillar to develop and formulate objectives for themselves. In X-Honours, students create their own routes with activities and projects of their choice. This way, they can combine X-Honours with the various things that they are already working on, and work on the five pillars in a way that fits their learning preferences and personal goals. After graduating students receive an X-honours degree, which makes them stand out when they’re looking for a job or for a new position.
How do we move on after Covid?
During Covid, we all learned the importance of meeting other people. We all need encounters with other people in everyday life. But we also learned the advantages of working online. How do we keep the advantages we gained during Covid and at the same time make sure we meet each other to work, study and inspire each other by meeting at our universities? That sure is a challenge for all of us! It seems we have to be creative together to make sure we rebuild our community and make it stronger. Community spirit can grow if we have good conditions and opportunities. By sharing good ideas and practices, for example on a snowy afternoon walk, we get towards a healthy student culture and well-being community!
Riikka Tuominen, Project Specialist, HAMK Edu
Jeannette Klomp, NHL Stenden