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Work-integrated learning and the importance of peer support and sense of belonging

Margaret McBeath (School of Public Health and Health Systems, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada)
Maureen T.B. Drysdale (Department of Psychology, St. Jerome’s University and School of Public Health and Health Systems, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada)
Nicholas Bohn (Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada)

Education + Training

ISSN: 0040-0912

Article publication date: 23 November 2017

Issue publication date: 2 January 2018

2806

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between peer support and sense of belonging on the mental health and overall well-being, with a specific focus on comparing the perceptions of students in a work-integrated learning (WIL) program to those in a traditional non-WIL program.

Design/methodology/approach

Semi-structured group interviews were conducted with 25 participants, selected from a university with a WIL program. Interview data captured perceptions of peer support, sense of belonging, and how these influenced mental health, overall well-being, and confidence in making school-to-work transitions. Analysis followed the grounded theory approach of Glaser.

Findings

The analysis revealed that peer support and sense of belonging were essential protective factors for university student’s mental health and well-being, particularly during off-campus work terms or when transitioning to the labor market after graduation. Data suggested that participating in a WIL program can exacerbate students’ perceived barriers to accessing peer support resources and, in turn, lead to poor mental health.

Originality/value

The findings provide evidence for the importance of peer support and sense of belonging on mental health and help-seeking behaviors. Findings are important for the development of health programs, initiatives, and policies, particularly in light of the increase in mental illness amongst university students during their studies and as they prepare for the competitive labor market after graduation.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Human Capital Research and Innovation Fund (Grant No. 040). The authors express thanks to all the students who participated in the study.

Citation

McBeath, M., Drysdale, M.T.B. and Bohn, N. (2018), "Work-integrated learning and the importance of peer support and sense of belonging", Education + Training, Vol. 60 No. 1, pp. 39-53. https://doi.org/10.1108/ET-05-2017-0070

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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