From the Nominator
"Supporting student well-being and increasing belonging and community was a priority at LSHTM when COVID-19 hit. Demand for counselling services had grown. COVID-19 exacerbated student anxiety and stress. As teaching moved online, students reported feeling isolated and lonely. LSHTM staff and alumni developed a pilot intervention whereby incoming students were placed in five-person informal support groups called 'Pentacells.’ Each Pentacell had an alumni facilitator to support and steer discussions. The project aimed to:
• Increase student well-being
• Improve institutional engagement, satisfaction, and retention
• Foster a sense of belonging
• Develop teaching and learning skills
• Be adaptable so other institutions can replicate it
LSHTM’s Pentacell project significantly improved participants' student experience during the pandemic. The project also delivered over 1,000 volunteer hours. One hundred alumni volunteers supported more than 500 students across 11 academic programmes. Each Pentacell group held at least 10 meetings. Around half the students were from outside the UK and 30% came from the low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs). Alumni facilitators came from 45 countries, with 35% from the LMICs.
Our volunteers' life experience and diversity helped students settle in more quickly and build strong bonds between students around the world. Students from LMICs and non-traditional backgrounds particularly stressed the benefits of Pentacell in helping them navigate the unfamiliar virtual environment. The friendships created added to student resilience and improved well-being—this increased satisfaction and institutional affinity, ensuring better relationships with our future alumni."
From the Judges
An innovative approach that had great impact. Easy for other institutions to replicate. Great way to engage current alumni and support students. Impressed with the level of detail provided to prepare volunteers and the students for what to expect.