Cecil Hills History Extension Mentoring Program 2019-2020

Since 2017, the University of Sydney’s Department of History and Department of Classics and Ancient History has partnered with Cecil Hills High School as part of the Social Inclusion programs under the guidance of Professor Michael McDonnell. Throughout this year, USYD undergraduates Claudia Rosenberg, Iman Asad and Kaitao He volunteered as mentors for Cecil Hills’s History Extension Class of 2020 to help students complete their major research project.

This task, which includes a proposal, annotated bibliography and scholarly essay of up to 2,500 words, will test the students’ ability to research and write at a university level. For many, this represents their first experience with and contribution to academic history, making it an intimidating challenge but also a helpful tool in preparing students for life at university. Luckily, the mentors from USYD were able to provide a channel of support as veterans of historical research, sharing their own experiences in overcoming the challenges of writing at a university level.

The History Extension major work also allowed students to creatively explore topics of their own interest and ideas, ranging from the use of sport in Feminist historiography to the influence of the Kim regime and Soviet Union on the construction of North Korean history.

These ideas, as well as the historical methodologies used to construct the students’ projects were perfected and discussed with mentors during several meetings throughout late 2019 and 2020. The first session took place at Fisher Library last December, with the mentors introducing their students to USYD and life at university. Students from Cecil Hills were able to explore various iconic locations such as the Quadrangle, Graffiti Tunnel and Fisher Library. This eventful day ended in a brainstorming session with the mentors to flesh out and finalise their topics, in preparation for their proposal submissions.

On 18th February 2020, the students and their teacher, Carol Campbell, graciously hosted the mentors from USYD and the second meeting at their high school in Cecil Hills, a suburb in the South-West region of Sydney. During this session, mentors were able to provide some help with academic research as students began collecting and analysing sources as part of their annotated bibliography. Mentor Kaitao He was particularly impressed with his students’ ability to interpret confusing or opaque primary sources from a critical and historiographic perspective.

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and both schools’ transition to online-learning, the Social Inclusion Extension History Program was able to adapt by holding a Zoom meeting on 9th April. During this session, mentors provided some insightful feedback on their students’ draft annotated bibliographies and proposals, preparing them well for the monumental final task of writing their major essay.

On behalf of the mentors and the Social Inclusion Program, we would like to thank the Cecil Hills History Extension Class of 2020 and their teacher, Carol Campbell, for their continued cooperation and partnership with the University of Sydney throughout these past months. Additionally, we would like to thank the volunteers from USYD for dedicating their time and energy in helping these students during their final year of high school.