CIVICA Peer to Peer Project Illuminates Paths to Higher Education

Initiated and coordinated by PhD student in the CEU Medieval Studies department and CIVICA Work Package 7 coordinator, Anastasia Theologou, the Peer to Peer (P2P) Project connects current university students from underprivileged backgrounds with young people in similarly challenging circumstances who are considering paths for their futures.

The civic engagement project has manifested as a series of video testimonies of CEU and CIVICA students who have made successful transitions to higher education. In addition, the P2P team has future plans (contingent on the mobility conditions of the pandemic) to organize live in-person exchanges, which would also be filmed, promoting live dialogue, increased access to information regarding universities and help to build an archive featuring many different paths to higher education. P2P is part of WP7, which focuses on materializing CIVICA’s civic engagement vision, positioning CIVICA alliance universities to be forward-thinking and active in reconsidering the civic responsibilities of Europeans toward future generations.

“My experience as a first-generation university student with a family that has a refugee background inspired me to encourage those in similar circumstances to enroll in higher education. In a way, I speak the same language and can address similar fears and challenges about the future and one’s place in the world,” reflects Theologou. In addition to identifying university colleagues eager to share their stories with understanding, compassion, and solidarity toward encouraging studies in higher education, the project also benefits the universities by enhancing the diversity of the student population.

Theologou adds, “When you listen to these stories, some common challenges include the limited access to information about higher education and to educational opportunities like internships, funding and scholarships at the high school level.” She has observed that when pupils encounter the narratives of the current university students featured in P2P, they realize these opportunities do exist and can ask questions and get encouraged to learn more about their future in higher education.

Theologou also points out that many pupils don't have access to IT tools to use, or they may lack skills on such technologies or struggle with their command of English language. Such challenges often create a lack of self-esteem and limit their horizons and expectations. Therefore, shedding light on the paths of current university students from similar backgrounds can both motivate these young people to make the most of available higher education opportunities, and gain confidence in their own abilities and skills.

Another key aspect of P2P is the two-way nature of the project: In addition to providing information and encouraging students who have yet to enter higher education, It simultaneously molds the character and deepens the perspectives and values of current university students from challenged backgrounds. By narrating their educational life stories, P2P encourages them to think carefully about how their own experiences can help others. Through this process they learn how to help building a multicultural and diverse social environment in higher education and contribute to outreach activities.

The videos have been featured during site visits to CEU as part of WP7’s high school activities. They have additionally been resonant in recruitment efforts attracting new students from diverse backgrounds and continue to be shared via online platforms. Following the initial videos created by CEU, additional university students across the CIVICA alliance are contributing P2P video testimonies.

Theologou is grateful to CIVICA and her WP7 colleagues in helping to realize P2P and supporting her in helping others realize their dreams. She believes that there's no better group to explain the value of higher education to these prospective, high school, students than by university students who have been through  similar challenges and have stood in the same shoes before taking the leap in pursuing higher education. At its most distilled, Theologou emphasizes the P2P message: “No matter where you're from, your social environment or the hardships you've been through, conquering your fears leads you to new and exciting paths.”