University is a time when young people are apt to take great strides, either forwards or backwards. Tamworth's Nick Hood has seen both sides of that picture.
Nick is a Christian staffworker at Newcastle University.
His work involves mentoring individual students, leading groups, training leaders and public teaching in lecture theatres as part of the Newcastle Christian Union.
NCU is a vigorous student-led body that has proved to be a lifeline for many a north-west refugee, adrift in the big smoke. An occasional free pancake stall is an excellent way to meet other students and exchange worldviews.
Relationships develop, trust builds and awareness grows as they study the Bible together in pairs or in groups. "I see many first year students come, pretty timid just like I was, and unaware of how to be a Christian in a university context. Over time we see them grow more confident in their faith."
"Soon they are able to speak confidently about Jesus and lead others."
At the end of each year there is a national training event and students are split into teams to go and serve a rural church.
Like Tamworth. December 4-8 will see Nick back in town with a posse of students, visiting churches and schools and pioneering a carol event at Westdale.
As Nick says, "university is a time when some people give up on their faith or hibernate.
"The pressure of studies, shifting towns, exposure to new ideas, opportunities and freedoms can be their undoing. But for others it's just the grounding they need."
Nick's advice to school leavers is "connect with like-minded people before you get there.
"Think very carefully about whom you're going to live with because that will influence how you end up."
Find a Christian group or church that will support you and encourage you in what is good. A useful site is afes.org.au/find-my-uni"