Peer support model makes a monumental impact

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Male student talking with his hands in front of laptop

By: Matthew King (he/him)

WE Accelerate team leads deliver value for first work-term students

Finding your first co-op role can be challenging. But for more than 900 first work-term students in the Waterloo Experience (WE) Accelerate program, having support from like-minded peers has proven successful.

WE Accelerate is a work-integrated learning (WIL) program that provides students with career training and skills development from industry collaborators. Students also get the opportunity to work on a real-world project with a small team. And, they have the close support of a WE Accelerate team lead throughout the program.

“Team leads are co-op students employed by the Centre of WIL and are the first point of support for WE Accelerate students,” says Jamieson Cox, manager, Centre for WIL strategic initiatives. “Many of our team leads are past WE Accelerate participants and can relate to the issues students may face throughout their work term.”

Much like the WE Accelerate program, the peer support model in the Centre for WIL was born during the COVID-19 pandemic. The model was initially part of the senior online learning assistant (SOLA) and online learning assistant (OLA) programs from the Centre of WIL. During the pandemic, senior students in these SOLA roles stepped up to lead others online.

“When WE Accelerate was just coming together, we decided to use the SOLA/OLA method and hired former SOLAs as our first team leads,” says Cox. “They knew what it was like to mentor people and to lead people virtually. They had a great sense of the tools that we would use like Microsoft Teams and Waterloo LEARN (web-based learning management system). They were a really critical part of getting the program off the ground.”

Team leads give back

Bobby Wu, a WE Accelerate team lead in the Manulife stream, relished the opportunity to give back.

“I was thrilled going back to WE Accelerate to give back to the community and be what my team lead was for me. To pass that experience along to the students,” says Wu.


One of the things that really made me proud is to have students say, ‘you really made an impact, and you really helped me here.’ I think that's way more rewarding than I thought it would be.



Abigail Otterbein
Abigail Otterbein
WE Accelerate team lead

Wu was also a speaker at the WE Accelerate information day — an event where previous participants and current team leads speak to prospective participants about their experience in the program.

Abigail Otterbein, also a WE Accelerate team lead and past participant, wanted to help other participants have a similar experience to her own experience going through the program.

“I felt that I had a really good connection with my team lead. And, I feel like I have the tools I need to be able to help other students and to help improve the program,” says Otterbein.

“So, when I went into that application, I was passionate and I think I had a lot more confidence. I have developed all these skills and I want to give back.”


Creating connections

Connecting with the students is a crucial part of the team lead role. That is something Wu excelled at, according to one of his former students.

“I think it was much easier to bond with him,” says Connor Kendall, an Engineering student who completed WE Accelerate. “As a student, Bobby knows us. He knows the situation of co-op and I did appreciate that. I think he did an excellent job at connecting with us and then raising any issues to the appropriate person.”

In spring 2022, 89.1 per cent of students that completed the WE Accelerate experience survey rated the support provided by their team lead as “Very Good” or “Excellent”.

“I feel like we connected on a deeper level than we would have with a regular staff,” says Ehsan Syed, a Mathematics student who completed WE Accelerate. “When we asked him for advice, he was very knowledgeable and relatable, so that really reassured us and helped us progress towards our goals.”

Bobby Wu
Bobby Wu
WE Accelerate team lead