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Peer learning leads to award for psychology student

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An enthusiasm and passion for psychology has helped Curtin student Kate Tonta win a hotly contested Australasian Peer Learning Award.

Kate Tonta

Kate is a Peer Learning Leader for the University Peer Assisted Study Sessions (UniPASS) program at Curtin. UniPASS involves free group study sessions run by trained, successful students doing the same course, who create collaborative and engaging activities to help students revise content and improve their study skills. Students who regularly attend sessions can become independent, connected and active learners, and can increase their grades by more than 10 per cent.

Kate commenced her role in February this year, and was nominated for the Outstanding New Leader Award in the 2016 Australasian PASS Leader Achievement Awards. The awards are presented to recognise excellence among PASS leaders in the Australasian region, and will be held in Sydney later this year. Thirty-five nominations were received, with the Outstanding New Leader category being very strongly contested.

Kate is thrilled to have won the award, and is excited about her trip to Sydney. She enjoys her UniPASS role much more than she initially expected, and shows great support and commitment to her students.

“I found that I really loved the [psychology] units, and was surprised that so many people had poor expectations about them. So when the opportunity came to share my excitement and help the next cohort find that passion, too, I jumped!” she says.

Kate discovered her interest in psychology after she studied engineering, but found it wasn’t her calling.

“I’m in my third year of psychology now. I studied engineering for two years, and found that I wasn’t at all fulfilled by what I was doing, and that affected my study behaviour. I took six months off, took up volunteering work and realised that I wanted to study the mind and how it works. About two weeks into my first semester, I knew I’d found my passion.”

Kate says one of her best study tips is ‘get to know your peers’, as it can be a crucial part of the learning process.

“A lot of people don’t have peers in their course that they can turn to for help or with questions, and I think that profoundly affects their education experience,” she says. “Helping other people learn is one of the best ways to learn for yourself, and getting help from peers can make content more accessible.”

Students who attended Kate’s UniPASS sessions had only praise for Kate and enjoyed her relaxed and friendly teaching style.

“I received a much higher mark than I had expected, and Kate always encouraged us to help each other, but was there to guide us in the right direction if needed,” says one of her students.

Since Kate joined UniPass as a leader, she has improved her own learning, developed new study techniques, and has improved her confidence in public speaking.

“My first lecture for UniPASS was so nerve wracking. I was shaking, sweating – terrified! But now it doesn’t bother me at all,” she says.

Kate has also formed significant academic networks through the UniPASS program.

“I’ve formed professional relationships with lecturers, research supervisors and other academics that I’ve never had the opportunity to meet before. I want to go into a PhD when I finish my undergraduate degree, and the UniPASS program has enable me to talk about different pathways and get so much information from so many experienced people,” she says.

Kate has demonstrated commitment to the wider culture of peer learning through a terrific research contribution, which will assist in the continued enhancement of the UniPASS program.

Read more about Kate’s award.

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