22/23 History Extension Mentoring Launch Day Recap!

On the 7th of December, History and Classics and Ancient History at the University of Sydney re-launched our long-running high school outreach efforts with the 2022/23 History Extension Mentoring program. Pre-covid, the mentoring program was one of several initiatives collaboratively devised by students, high school teachers, and Faculty here in Sydney. This year, we re-introduced the History Extension mentoring program with a more ambitious scope.

The program, piloted by Chifley College Senior Campus and Cecil Hills High School in previous years, involves current University students acting as mentors to high school students who are working on their major projects in the challenging History Extension HSC course. The student volunteers undergo training and then meet with their mentees over the course of five visits between December and July, supervised by a team of academics and their teachers.

For 2022-2023, we again invited Chifley College and Cecil Hills to participate. But we also expanded the program to two new schools, Birrong Girls High and Canley Vale from western Sydney. Further, we invited our first-ever regional school, Corowa High, whose campus lies 60km west of Albury-Wodonga on the NSW/Victorian border. We were delighted at the enthusiasm of teachers and principals alike to participate in the program, and especially pleased to hear that this is the first year the Birrong Girls High offered History Extension.

On the day, we had Corowa and Canley Vale join us via Zoom and Birrong, Chifley, and Cecil Hills visited on campus. In total, we welcomed forty HSC History Extension students alongside twenty student mentors from the University of Sydney, including undergraduates, post-graduates, and even one alumni!

The day started with an introduction from Professor Mike McDonnell, who welcomed our Zoom mentors and mentees, our in-person student and mentor groups, and additional teacher volunteers Melanie Stephens and Emma Dixon.

  Mike addressing our hybrid attendees in the CCNESA Conference Room.

Following a moving introduction from Mike on the program’s history and the importance of the Social Inclusion Program, Dr Niro Kandasamy and Dr James Findlay treated the groups to a presentation on the importance of historiography and how questions of historical debate and methodology factor into their research.

The presentation aimed to help the students continue thinking about their projects and the types of questions a historian asks about their secondary sources. The critical aspect of a history extension project is not so much about understanding the past but how historians’ writing is a product of their time and place. We received fantastic feedback on these presentations and are looking ahead to recording these in a structured, digital format for the students to revisit and hopefully for the use of wider cohorts.

After these excellent presentations, it was time for the real work to begin! Our in-person mentees got to meet their mentors, break the ice a little bit, and head out on a mentor-led tour of the campus after some morning tea. We received feedback from the high school teachers, before and after the day, that the campus tour can be a really formative experience for their students. It can be easy to forget your first time seeing the Quad, graffiti alley, or any of the fantastic architecture across the campus when you’re a student walking among it most weeks of the year.

During the campus tours, our Zoom groups continued their ice-breaking and discussions of history projects. Despite the limitations of zoom, we’ve had excellent feedback from Corowa and Canley Vale teachers and students. Our teachers and students were particularly pleased and impressed with the friendliness and engagement of the mentors. We are currently in discussions with both schools (yes, even Corowa!) for their visits to campus in February and March next year once the term is back in session.

On campus, we finished our day with a mountainous feed of pizza and pide from the folks at UniBros, who came in clutch on the day. After lunch, our in-person groups continued their lively discussions about their history extension projects. In addition, Niro, James and Mike mingled with the mentoring groups and provided extra support and guidance to some of the students whose projects sat close to our historian’s interests.

Though it was an exhausting launch day for all, it was also a rewarding one. Preparations are now underway for our next sessions, which will take place here on campus in February. We are also super excited about the opportunity to visit our extension groups at their schools.

We have several important people to thank for the day’s success. The first of these goes to our teacher and post-graduate volunteers Emma and Melanie, who played a crucial role in watching over Zoom calls to ensure nothing went wrong, helped bring the food, and run some great discussions with the History Extension teachers. More thanks go to all those in the Faculty who helped book, unbook, and reboot rooms to host such large groups of in-person and digital teacher, mentors, mentees, and academics! Finally, we want to thank Mike McDonnell, Niro Kandasamy and James Findlay for their hard work and support in getting this year’s iteration of the program off to a flying start.

But most importantly, we need to thank the mentors, extension teachers and mentees. For our wonderful mentors, we want to acknowledge their incredible passion for history and for giving up their time to help provide a space and platform for those exceptional young people willing to take the risk and commit to participate in the HSC History Extension course. For our teachers and mentees, thank you for taking a chance on History Extension and for allowing us to support you in that journey.

We are already looking to build on the success of the launch day in the new year and look forward to seeing our mentors at work with the students once again. Happy holidays and happy new year to all involved!

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.

Mentoring Help

Dear First-Year students,

Feeling a bit lost as Uni starts? Worried about how to manage your workload? Nervous about speaking up in tutorials? Anxious about assessments? Unsure of who to ask for advice? 

We are here to help!

This year, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) has introduced a new peer mentoring program“Communities of Support”, designed to offer you guidance and support as you as you navigate your first full year of university study.

Communities of Support offers all FASS first years regular mentoring sessions with senior undergraduate students who have volunteered to provide you the benefit of their experience, enthusiasm, and encouragement as you settle in to life at university. By participating in the program, you will learn a lot about how University works, what skills, strategies, and ‘life-hacks’ might help you to do well in your studies, and be guaranteed the support of a university peer who is invested in your general welfare and wellbeing.You will also get the chance to meet other first year students in a friendly and supportive environment.

Mentoring sessions begin in Week 3 of Semester 1 and will take place in small groups for one hour per week. (Semester 2 mentoring will take place fortnightly.) The day and time of your session will be scheduled according to your availability.

To sign up for this valuable mentoring experience, register your interest here: https://sydney.au1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_8j0mwXwmiTE83kx. Spots are limited, so we recommend you register as soon as possible.

Once you have registered, we will be in touch with the time, day, and location of your first mentoring session and contact details for your assigned mentor.

Thanks in advance for your participation. We hope you find the experience rewarding, and please do feel free to contact our CoS Project Officer, Mr Simon Wyatt-Spratt if you have any questions (simon.wyatt-spratt@sydney.edu.au).


Dr Kieryn McKay | LINK Project Manager

Department of English | The University of Sydney

Room S353 | John Woolley Building A20 | The University of Sydney | NSW | 2006

t: +61 2 9036 9957; f: +61 2 9351 2434; e: kieryn.mckay@sydney.edu.au

Student Volunteers Needed

Dear students,

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney would like to invite you to become a volunteer mentor for a new Faculty-wide first year mentoring program in 2020. Entitled “Communities of Support”, th​is extended mentoring program aims to address student transition, support, and retention issues among some of our most underrepresented cohorts ​as they enter and undertake their first year of study. ​We also hope to contribute to student well-being and satisfaction ​by encouraging stronger communities among our FASS student cohort. 

About the Communities of Support (CoS) Program

Transitioning to life at University can be challenging. How do change your timetable? How do you keep on top of your workload while working a part-time job? How do you prepare for exams or undertake research for your assessments? How do you make new friends in a Faculty as big and as broad as FASS? First year students are often overwhelmed by the difficult task of adjusting to the many new experiences they encounter in their first year of study. Those students who are among the first in their family to attend university or who come from low-socioeconomic backgrounds are also less likely to have members of their family or community who can provide effective support as they transition to higher education. We would like to do more to help. 

The FASS Communities of Support Mentoring Program offers extended peer support to first year students across their first year of study. Open to all FASS first year undergraduates but designed to cater specifically to those of low-socioeconomic backgrounds and/or first in family, the program offers weekly mentoring throughout Semester 1, fortnightly mentoring in Semester 2, and follows a structured schedule of topics that progress in-step with the first year experience. 

Your Involvement

As a Communities of Support (CoS) Mentor, you would be helping to enrich the first year experience for our ‘mentee’ program participants. As a second year, third year (or beyond!), you have already learned a lot about how life at University works, and what skills, strategies, and ‘life-hacks’ help you to do well in your studies. We be thrilled if you could offer your general knowledge, experience, and your support to those who are just starting out at University. 

Mentoring is a very rewarding experience, and your involvement in the CoS program will help to develop your leadership capacity, communication skills, and your own cultural competencies in working with diverse student groups. We also hope that the program will offer a stronger sense of community for all of our Mentors and Fellows across the Faculty. Finally,  all volunteer mentors will receive will receive a $100 shopping voucher on completion of the program. 

If you are willing to participate as a CoS Mentor, you will be matched with 2-4 first year participants who will become your ‘mentee group’ across the year. We will provide you with mentoring training, as well as a calendar of topics and relevant ‘talking points’ to help guide your mentoring sessions. You will also be paired with a postgraduate CoS Leadership Fellow who you will meet with once a month to consult on your progress, ask questions, and who will offer you general support. Please note that your time commitment to the project will involve one hour per week throughout Semester 1 and one hour per fortnight throughout Semester 2 for your small group mentoring sessions, and one additional hour per month for coffee catch-ups with your allocated Fellow. All mentoring sessions and Fellows coffees will be arranged according to your availability. 

CoS Mentor Registration

All FASS students who are second-year ​undergraduates and above are invited to apply to become a volunteer ​CoS Mentor. We particularly encourage students who are themselves E12 scholarship recipients, are among the first generation in your family to go to University, ​are from diverse cultural backgrounds, come from a regional/rural area​, and/or belong to other under-represented cohorts at the University. Please note that if you have already signed up for an existing mentoring program, you can still enrol for this program, but we expect you to honour your original commitment as well.

You can apply by completing the CoS Mentor Registration at this link: https://sydney.au1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_8CGryCDGz83RFB3. Applications are due by 9:00 pm, on Tuesday, March 3.

If you are selected for the program you will be asked to attend a welcome and training ​session on Friday, March 6, from 10am – 3pm. ​Alternative arrangements can be made for those who cannot attend. 

Thanks in advance for your help and participation, and please do feel free to contact our CoS Project Officer, Mr Simon Wyatt-Spratt if you have any questions (simon.wyatt-spratt@sydney.edu.au).

Associate Professor Melissa Hardie (English)

Professor Michael McDonnell (History)

Dr. Kieryn McKay (Project Manager)

Simon Wyatt-Spratt (Project Officer)

Communities of Support: Leadership Fellows Scheme 2020

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney

Since 2012, the Departments of English, History, and Classics and Ancient History have worked with low-socioeconomic high schools across NSW to engage with a wider cohort of students, make us better, more inclusive teachers, foster aspiration, and encourage students of diverse backgrounds to participate in higher education. Further information about these programs can be found here: http://sydney.edu.au/arts/widening_participation/ and https://historymatters.sydney.edu.au/category/history-and-social-inclusion/  

This year, as part of a successful Strategic Education Grant (Widening Participation), we will recruit Leadership Fellows from across the Faculty (two per School), for HDR students to play a critical role in our new project entitled “Communities of Support: First Generation Students and the Transition to University.”

This Faculty-wide two-tier project will address student transition and retention issues among some of our most at-risk students, and contribute to student well-being and satisfaction. The project aims to create a pool of trained student volunteers and Leadership Fellows from each School who will work closely with current low-ses and First in Family students to co-create an intensive mentoring experience for incoming students in 2020. We hope to build a community of engaged, informed, and trained students and enrich the student experience for all, as well as hep inform a more formal Faculty-wide transition program in the future.

Our Leadership Fellows will be given the opportunity to advance key academic skills, including inclusive teaching and mentoring in higher education; providing mentorship to undergraduate volunteers, design support activities for volunteers to support their mentees, lead cohorts of volunteers in the delivery of grant projects, and provide general event coordination and publicity support.

The Leadership Fellow program runs from February to December 2020. The specific responsibilities, dates of commitment, and key programs of involvement for Fellows are outlined below. All duties will be conducted under the supervision and guidance of Project Manager, Dr Kieryn McKay, with the support of Project Assistant, Simon Wyatt-Spratt, and under the general direction of Associate Professor Melissa Hardie and Professor Michael A. McDonnell.

All Fellows will receive training in Inclusive Teaching and Low-SES Volunteering to qualify for their position. Fellows will receive a $500 honorarium and a certificate of achievement for their contributions to the program, both of which will be presented to Fellows at the end of their Fellowship term. 


To apply to become a Leadership Fellow, you must be currently enrolled in a Higher Degree Research program in FASS.


Application forms are available via this Qualtrics link: https://sydney.au1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9BNpSzZWRTvBcDr

Applications require candidates to provide a brief outline of relevant experience and the details of two referees.

All applications for the 2020 Leadership Fellow scheme are due by noon (12:00 pm) on Friday, January 31st.  

Leadership Fellows 2020 – Responsibilities 

The specific duties, dates of commitment, and key involvement for Fellows are outlined below. All responsibilities will be conducted under the supervision and guidance of the Project Manager, Dr Kieryn McKay, and with the support of Project Assistant, Simon Wyatt-Spratt, and under the general direction of Associate Professor Melissa Hardie and Professor Michael A. McDonnell.


Responsibilities and time commitments for Fellows are outlined below. Please note that some activities require advanced preparation, and you will be required to communicate with a small pool of volunteers (4-6 maximum) throughout the year.

Time commitment:  welcome and training session, 10 am-4 pm on Friday, February 7th; Mentor/Fellows Partnerships Lunch, 12-1 pm Friday, Feb. 28; a once-monthly lunch with Project officers and involved academics; end-of-semester and year Social event and evaluations.   

Outline: Leadership Fellows will be trained by program leaders in inclusive teaching and support, and will then in turn be responsible for coordinating and supporting small groups of undergraduate students as they mentor new first year students through the year. Leadership Fellows will also provide valuable input into the mentoring program and meet with undergraduate volunteers at least once a month, as well as meeting Project officers and academics every month. As a Leadership Fellow you will help to coordinate the program and will play a key leadership role for our group of volunteer mentors.

Miller Technology High Social Inclusion Program – Essay Writing Celebration

On the 29th of November Mike McDonnell and Clair Sole visited Miller Technology High School to celebrate the work the Year 11s did in their did in their Historical Investigation Projects. Miller Technology High students worked alongside Sydney University student volunteers over five meetings from April-August to complete a written essay. The students also had to prepare a speech and give a presentation in front of their friends, students from Granville Boys High School, and staff and students at the University. The topics ranged from the impact of William Wallace on ideas of Scottish independence to the experiences of Iranian women in the twentieth century.

The Presentation Day involved awarding students for their hard work, and special prizes were given for the best Ancient and Modern essays and presentations. Mike was invited to talk to the students about the benefits of tertiary education and awarded the best essays and presentations for Ancient and Modern History. Rachael-Anne Benson was awarded the best essay and presentation for Ancient History and gave her presentation on the impact of William Wallace on Scottish independence whilst Shaedaa Hadi was awarded the best essay and presentation for Modern History and gave a speech about her experience in the social inclusion program.

The day concluded with a brief speech by principle, Dr Ken Edge, congratulating the students, and a Thai lunch with the students. The Social Inclusion Program looks forward to working with Miller Technology High again in the coming year!

Chifley Senior Campus + University of Sydney Essay Competition

On the 22nd of November, Simon Wyatt-Spratt and Mike McDonnell attended the annual Chifley Senior Campus humanities award ceremony.  The day marks the culmination of a year of hard work for the senior Chifley students. Students are receive awards in areas from business studies, to society and culture, and history. Mike and Simon were there to award the students for the essays they wrote as part of the  University of Sydney’s Essay Writing Competition. This competition is held jointly by the University and Chifley Senior Campus and judged by academics from both the modern and ancient disciplines. The University and Chifley College Campus have been working together as part of an equity social inclusion program in order to encourage students to achieve academic excellence and to consider university as an option.

When it was time for the awards, Mike was invited to give a talk to the students, teachers and parents gathered on the merits of tertiary education for people from all walks of life. Following this, the highly commended essays were awarded.  Tahlara Mazzelli was named the winner of the Modern History Essay competition. Tahlara was praised for writing an essay on Winston Churchill’s role in WW2, and the secret war in India. David Ibekaku was named the winner for the Ancient History Essay competition. David explored the value and limitations of Biblical and archaeological sources in an assessment of King David of Israel’s rule. After, commendations for Grace Major’s Personal Interest Project (the Society and Culture major work) and Allen Burias’s History Extension project were awarded. Both projects were of an impeccable standard this year.

Following the ceremony, the students, parents, teachers, and guests were invited to enjoy a pizza lunch together. Discussing the future plans of the freshly graduated ex-students and the year 12 students, we were relieved to find that many of them plan to go to the University of Sydney next year.

The Social Inclusion Program looks forward to working with Chifley Senior Campus again in 2020!

Year 11 Program Volunteers visit Granville Boys High and Miller Technology high

This morning, a bunch of University of Sydney History Undergrad students huddled out the front of Granville Boys and Miller Tech. high schools in western Sydney. We had braved the cold morning trip from the city, coffee in tow, in order to assist the year 11 students with their major projects for ancient history.
I led the group at Granville Boys high with the help of Lachlan Anderson, our GBHS volunteer leader. Upon meeting up with the students in their ancient history classroom, they did not look happy to be at school. Ramadan has just finished, and many of their peers were at home feasting and celebrating. The glum faces of the boys showed us they’d rather be celebrating than working on history projects. Eventually though, we got them talking. The students were excited to share their ideas with the mentors. Though they did need a bit of encouragement at first though, to feel confident in opening up about their thoughts and work. Subjects ranged from the Terracotta warriors to the Vikings, and by the first hour in, most students seemed to be confidently researching away and talking openly with their mentor.
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One thing I’ve noticed through working with the students of GHBS and Miller over the past two years is that while there is an initial lack of confidence from the students of their academic ideas, once they feel interested and comfortable with their mentor the brightness of their ideas lights up the classroom, library or campus they’re working in.
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After two hours of working, us mentors were lucky enough to be given a guided tour of Granville Boys High school! And what a fantastic school it is. With beautiful outdoor murals, fantastic hospitality facilities, and plenty of room to run around. The school treated the volunteers to a celebratory morning tea for the end of ramadan, as well as lunch.
Many of the mentors reflected that visiting GBHS was a fantastic cultural education for them to experience life in Granville Boys High, as it is a very diverse place with a predominant religious make up of Islamic students. For example, one class had only 1 out of 22 students present due to everyone being at home celebrating the end of ramadan!
Mike Mcdonnell took another group of volunteers out to Miller Technology high school on this day as well.
We look forward to welcoming both groups of students back to our side of the city for our next campus day on June 28.

HUGE day to kickstart the History Mentoring Program for 2019

Last Friday the social inclusion program welcomed a record number of year 11 students from Western Sydney high schools to the university campus for the year 11 mentoring program. Approx 50 students and 25 volunteers. This was the introductory session for the 2019 program. It started off with a volunteer induction session and then the acknowledgement of Country. The running of the day was greatly aided by the work of our two volunteer leaders, undergraduate students Jakson and Lachlan. They managed the volunteers in two groups; one group paired with Miller high students and one group paired with Granville Boys High School students.
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The morning acted as a get to know you session. The school students got to learn a bit about their university mentor and vice versa (though it was definitely the school students who had the more interesting stories, with a high percentage of the students telling stories of unconventional migration to Australia and learning English only in the recent years!). Following, the mentors led a campus tour and showed the students various attractions that interested their particular group. The graffiti tunnel proved to be a big hit, a long with any cafe at which one could purchase a hot chocolate.
Lunch occurred upon returning, and an exploration of some of the older rooms in the quad building. Many of the boys didn’t eat, as there is a large Muslim proportion at Granville Boys and we are currently in Ramadan. Instead, they went and took part in the mid-day prayer that occurs every day on campus in the prayer room inside the Old Teacher’s College.
In the afternoon, the students knuckled down and spoke with their mentors about the specifics of their research topic and how they would go about starting the project.
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We closed with an address by Mike Mcdonnell about the merits of university and the opportunities which blossom through higher education.
By the time the students had to return to school, their minds had been crammed with a lot more than advice about their research project.
The next mentoring session with this group will take place in around a month.

Granville Boys High – Project Based Learning Presentation

Last Tuesday, Bridget Neave, Project Manager of the social inclusion program, visited one of our partner schools. Granville Boys High was having a presentation day to celebrate the end of the semester for their Project Based Learning. The year seven classes had worked on preparing responses to the statement “How do the dead speak to us?”. They addressed the idea through music, painting, poetry, english and with a historical lens. It was wonderful to see the work that the students had come up with following their visit to the University of Sydney two months prior. Where they explored the Nicholson Museum, and took part in a hands on workshop where they drew archeological artefacts from ancient Egyptian and Grecian times.
Year seven students performing “Seven years old” by lucas graham.
Artistic construction of an Ancient Egyptian mummy.