NUmates wins Excellence in Student Engagement award

Tuesday, 7 December 2021

The University's NUmates program has been recognised for fostering an amazing student experience, taking out the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) Award for Excellence in Student Engagement.

Two people walking on the beach

The award was presented at the tenth annual Association for Tertiary Education Management (ATEM) awards.

A program to engage international and domestic students through a range of fun activities, NUmates was created to address particularly unique challenges in the face of the COVID pandemic and the resulting global shutdown.

Determined to ensure students who couldn’t return to their friends and families at the end of 2020 would be connected and supported, the team created a Summer Support campaign with content arranged across four key areas: support services, foodbanks, free and fun activities in Newcastle, the Central Coast and Sydney, and COVID updates.

Mobilising quickly, the endeavour was brought to life in just eight days.

Vice Chancellor Professor Alex Zelinsky said that the win was fantastic recognition for a great, student-led initiative.

“The care and compassion NUmates showed in setting up this program is a great example of the exceptional community spirit we have here at the University of Newcastle,” Profesor Zelinsky said.

“It’s wonderful that NUmates have been recognised with this award, and even better that they continue to make such a positive difference across our campuses.”

Adopt a friend/family

At the end of the 2020 academic year, Australia’s strict border closures meant international students would be separated from their families and friends over the long summer break, and those who left would risk not being allowed back in.

The ‘Adopt a friend/family’ summer support program, named NUmates by the students, harnessed the power of the University community to support and connect onshore international students during a time when they would normally return to their home countries to be with their families and friends.

The result was a program that was simple, safe and accessible for students on all domestic campuses, providing opportunities for international students and buddies to connect with their local communities and each other.

It received overwhelming support, with survey responses indicating a clear need and enthusiasm for the program, as well as a desire for it to continue throughout the academic year.

“To me, NUmates is not a mere program, it’s a lifestyle,” said Dara Tafazoli, one of the key students involved.

“The program is grounded in bringing about inclusion and diversity in a friendly atmosphere which develops people’s intercultural competence.

“In NUmates, I learned how to consider others’ opinions, interests, tastes, and lifestyles while considering mine. In other words, we experienced a kind of shared lifestyle which is unique and unattainable elsewhere.”


  • 63 buddies and 153 mentees registered.
  • 382 chat sessions conducted.
  • 44 group sessions held.
  • Over 100 students participating across group sessions.
  • 100% of participants said they would recommend NUmates to other international students.

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.