Student Financial Support Peer team makes sense of dollars and cents

Making sense of the dollars and cents of postsecondary education is the focus for a group of students at York University.

The group, known as the Student Financial Support Peer team, was created in response to the findings of the National College Health Assessment of 2016, which identified finances as one of the significant stressors for students across Ontario.

Above: The SFS Team. First row: from left, Isabela Bibulovic, Joanne Ong and Sarah Labib. Second row: from left, Lorenzo Panate, Ilia Azari, Hammad Saif.

Through funding made possible by a Ministry of Training, Colleges & Universities Mental Health Services Grant, the University’s new Student Financial Support Peer team consists of six student leaders who are committed to fostering mental well-being on campus by helping their fellow students understand and manage the complexities around their finances, and as a result, reduce or relieve anxiety. The first Student Financial Support Peer team was launched in September 2018.

The team received extensive training during the last two weeks of August 2018. The training was developed and delivered by Sylvia Spizzirri, student financial liaison officer, and Mary Santoli, financial aid trainer and ministry liaison. The training equipped the team with the knowledge needed to work closely with the University’s student financial advisors to address a variety of questions relating to student accounts and Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) queries and to provide support around scholarships and bursaries inquests. Just in three short months, from September to November 2018, the team served more than 5,700 students. The team also refers students to the appropriate resources and provides guidance with wayfinding across different spaces and services within the University.

“The launch of the Financial Support Peer-to-Peer Advising program has been remarkable,” said Sobhi Fanos, manager of financial aid processing. “It provides students with a unique forum of gaining knowledge and experience from peer advisors who work closely with Student Financial Services.”

Research consistently demonstrates there are reciprocal benefits in peer-to-peer programming. These benefits include increased engagement in self-care and wellness. A mentally healthy campus community is one where all its elements – people, environments and collective culture – work together to promote the well-being of all its members and the inclusiveness of its culture. York University is committed to a mentally healthy campus, providing access to a variety of resources, services and programs to help manage mental health challenges and enhance holistic well-being.

Joanne Ong, lead peer for the team and a second-year sociology student, expressed her enthusiasm. “It’s been so rewarding to work with students to help them navigate their financial questions. Over the semester we’ve really grown as a team, and not only been able to help students but also learn more about finances for ourselves,” she said.

The Student Financial Support Peer team can be found at the welcome desk located on the first floor of the Bennett Centre for Student Services. The team is available each week on Monday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The hiring process for the 2019-20 academic year began on Feb. 8. Students can apply to be part of the team through the Student Community & Leadership Development’s Join The Team page.