Studietrust follows a project approach to its activities. We are currently engaged in the following projects:
♦ Application and Selection
A crucial part of our work is to ensure qualifying candidates for our bursary opportunities. We over the years developed a computerised system that enables us to identify potential and not only excellence. This is of vital importance in a country where primary and secondary education often fail the child with potential.
Our application process was made considerably easier through a gift from Protea Coin’s IT department for which we are immensely grateful. Programmers of this company donated their work and time and developed an online application facility that is progressively being used by applicants.
Our application season runs from April to September. Information on the various bursary opportunities and selection criteria can be found here:
♦ Bursary administration and payments
With our online bursary management and database in place we have the capacity to administer any number of bursaries and keep accurate track of the following:
• Bursars’ home circumstances
• Bursars’ study details – academic records, study institutions, study programmes
• Our test and examination results capture facility allows bursars to capture their own results online and upload the supporting documentation to allow our administrators to verify the accuracy of the results.
· Each and every transaction is tracked through the process of request received, documentation uploaded, approval, pledging, payment and import into our accounting system. We can at all times account for all transactions.
• Bursars’ contact details.
♦ Mentoring and student support
Personal attention had always been the foundation of our approach to student support. In recent years we added the building of communities of mutual care on all campuses where we have a critical mass of beneficiaries as the basis of a peer mentor programme. The community building workshops we offered as pilots in 2012 worked so well that we will continue along this route. We pride ourselves that we are responsive to feedback from students.
Three incidents in 2012 capture our learning:
• During a peer mentor training workshop at UCT the facilitator got somewhat frustrated by the lack of enthusiasm generated by his best efforts. The answer to his eventual question proved to be pivotal: “As students we always have to read handbooks and workbooks and prepare for tuts and class. To expect us to add just another session of the same kind to the already hectic schedule of first year students just means that Studietrust is becoming boring. First year students sometimes just want to chill a bit.”
• During an individual face-to-face meeting with another student on the same campus our mentor was told the following: “I am a peer mentor on my res floor and in my academic department. So I actually belong to many communities here at varsity. But Studietrust is my most important community as I feel part of its drive to change people’s lives.”
• The third encounter was on the NMMU campus. One of our bursars cried for most of the first semester individual consultation. Her father’s business went bust and they lost all they had. The upheaval eventually had the consequence that she did badly in some of her B Com Accounting subjects and as a result was excluded from the CA stream. When our senior mentor returned for the second semester personal consultations, the student’s eyes were bright and shining. What happened? “It all started during the orientation workshop you presented on our campus in January. You told us to take charge of our own destiny. I stopped blaming my circumstances. You also introduced us to practical skills we could master in the process. I studied the Studietrust peer mentor manual and applied each and every part of it, from goal setting to time management to stress management, and I can tell you – it works! I became more productive, using my time better. I planned every week beforehand and even every day. I used the best time of the day to plan and used lists that I followed meticulously. I passed all my exams in June, so well that I was welcomed back into the CA stream. Please tell all your students that they have no excuse – everything is available. They should just follow your advice!”
On the basis of these three encounters (representing data saturation around these issues) we revised our mentor and support programme according to the following principles:
• Each gathering facilitated by Studietrust must take the form of an energising event. Students must leave with a sense of having been uplifted by the experience and that they belong to a community of mutual inspiration and care.
• The peer mentor programme must be based in this sense of belonging. We learned the basics of community building from Symphonia (www.symphonia.co.za), an outfit with whom we share a passion for possibility and education. Their methods are based in the work of Peter Block.
• The skills workbooks and manuals are available as resources on our student portal. We know that using them will be beneficial to our students and we will tirelessly remind them of that.
♦ Counselling support
Our policy is that we are not a professional counselling outfit although we do make use of registered professionals for our campus visits. We will also train our administrators and mentors in lay counselling from 2013. We refer students in need of more intensive counselling to professional counsellors on campus. Some of our donors also make available to their bursars access to the wellness programmes of the company. When students accept the bursary they are asked for consent that Studietrust may alert a counsellor if we judge that there is such a need.
♦ Academic support
Here, too, the policy is that we do not engage in subject-specific tutorials or one-on-one interventions. These facilities are available on campuses and our job is to make sure that students at risk do make use of what is offered by the universities.
We do, however, offer holiday seminars to bursars sponsored by donors who are willing to foot the bill for this added intervention. We started with winter seminars in 2010 for students on a Sasol Inzalo Foundation bursary. We partner with the Ukuqonda Institute (www.ukuqonda.co.za) in offering a curriculum that does not pretend to be “extra classes” in Maths and Physics. Called “Threshold Concepts in Maths, Science and Technology” this intensive week-long programme exposes students to problems that they must solve with their own resources. The emphasis is on critical thinking and problem solving and the effect is remarkable. First year students fresh from the brutal “Hero to Zero” experience (or from 81% in matric Maths to 18% in the first university Maths test) regain their confidence and sense of self and return to university with a new determination and resolve to master the new challenges. The academic curriculum during the holiday seminars is interspersed with soft skill offerings with an emphasis on fun and creativity – many of our students associate doing their best with not having fun and just sitting in front of their books, which could become unproductive.
♦ Research and Evaluation
Our mentor and support programme is constantly evaluated and researched, as it is our aim to develop a successful model that can be replicated. Our principal partner in this is the Sasol Inzalo Foundation. Some presentations of results in this regard are already available online:
• Vosloo, MM & Blighnaut, S 2010. “From Hero to Zero … and back? The journey of first year access students in mainstream programmes. ”http://www.assaf.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Vosloo-Blignaut-Hero-to-Zero.pdf
• Human, C et al 2010. “Strategic and conceptual challenges experienced by first-year students while attempting to solve problems that require mathematical modelling.” http://www.assaf.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Zuki-HumanEtAlProblemSolvingMathModellingOct2010.pdf
• Vosloo, M, Hofmeyr M & Letlape, M 2012. “Supporting tertiary access for disadvantaged students: Lessons from the Sasol Inzalo Foundation’s bursary programme.” Supporting tertiary access for disadvantaged students
♦ Exit Strategy
In 2010 the Studietrust Board adopted the bridging of the second gap – that between university and the world of work – as core business. We ran a pilot work readiness workshop in 2012 and are currently preparing a programme that will include making available to our bursars a network of entities that could facilitate vacation work and experiential learning opportunities, work readiness skills and eventually a talent management platform.