After leaving Masiphumelele High School the students on Masicorp’s bursary programme start a whole new life. Their new learning experience involves being away from the family home and living independently on or near campus in Cape Town. As well as having to adjust to the pace of higher education and learn new materials they have to overcome the shock of living away from their families and community back in Masiphumelele. As the course gets harder and the pressure to fit into university life starts to build it helps if you have someone to turn to for friendship and guidance. This is the vital role played by Masicorp’s bursary student mentors.
Before leaving Masiphumelele each student is given a mentor from among our pool of volunteers who will stay in regular contact throughout the academic year. Mentors will meet their students before the course begins and take them to their residence in the city. Students and mentors stay in regular contact through regular telephone calls or even Facebook/WhatsApp if the student prefers. Once the student has settled into their new life mentors often meet up with their students on campus for coffee and a snack. Sometimes it is useful to take the student on a brief outing but the most important thing for a mentor is to be there when needed.
Mentors do not need to be experts in any academic subject – that is what the university tutors are there for. If a mentor has a particular specialism or professional skill then we will make every effort to match them to an appropriate student but this is not strictly necessary. The mentor’s main role is to befriend and watch over their student and to earn their trust. If we can identify problems in a particular area of the course or in a student’s personal circumstances at an early stage there is a much greater chance that Masicorp can provide additional tutoring or specialist counseling before the problems become too big to manage.
Last week programme manager Susan de Vaux invited several of the current mentors to meet and share their experiences. It was a useful session for new mentors with students just starting out in higher education to meet experienced mentors who have completed a full course with their students. Seen here are just some of the mentors involved (front row left to right: Clare Wilson, Jill Stirrup [Vice President], Pat Brennen, Trish Fergusonn and back row left to right: Susan de Vaux [Programme manager], Phoebe Cottrell, Milli Firth [Masicorp Deputy CEO]).
The mentor scheme is best summed up by experienced Masicorp Vice President, Jill Stirrup, who told us, “I have been mentoring for quite a few years and have enjoyed it immensely – watching young people develop from shell shocked school leavers to grown up successful and independent young people is a very worthwhile experience”.
Are you interested in becoming a bursary student mentor? Please feel free to contact programme manager Susan de Vaux who would be delighted to give you more details and discuss the requirements with you: (E-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org (Tel) 082 653 3904.
Last weekend we had the chance to meet up with the new and existing bursary students and find out how their first few weeks of study at university was progressing. The first social event of the new academic year was a picnic on the fields of the University of the Western Cape (UWC) campus in Belville. Events such as this allow the students to meet each other and share their experiences as they are otherwise spread out at campuses and residences across the city. There were one or two comments from the new students who, after three weeks of study, were just starting to realize how different to high school their university courses will be.
Being able to meet and mix with the students from the years above them is a big help for the newcomers and several of the new recruits were given advice by the existing students. The 2014 intake is very much the opposite of the 2013 intake, which saw four female students and just one male student join the program. This year there are four male students and just one female. The courses they have selected are also very different.
Simthembile Mlindi is studying Mechanical Engineering at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) to satisfy his passion for designing and building devices. His friend, Siphoxolo Melamane, is also at CPUT, but because he is studying agriculture he is based at their rural campus in Wellington rural campus in Wellington – a first for the program.
The other new students are based at UWC. Siviwe Makeleni is studying law, with a long term view to bring justice to local communities and tackle the corruption issues that are endemic in South Africa. Phumlani Mtshawuli was initially interested in teaching but has ultimately decided to study social work. Yolandi Sigodi is the sole female student and is taking biotechnology, which has been a popular option in recent years. She has several older students on the program that she can turn to for advice.
On a roasting hot summers afternoon it was a great turnout with 12 of the existing students taking time out to join us. Thanks must go to Masicorp volunteer Elize Taylor (seen here amongst the students) for coordinating the event, shuttling various students to and from residences and providing a large hamper of goodies.
Starting any higher education course is a massive step up from learning at high school. The course material becomes more challenging and you are expected to become more independent in researching information rather than being directed by a teacher. At the same time students are learning to live on their own away from the close circle of family and friends they have known all their lives. It is inevitable that homesickness will kick in at some point and conquering it is just one challenge that our bursary students have had to tackle.
Masicorp goes to great lengths to ensure that all bursary students are well housed for their studies. Although the centre of Cape Town is only 40 km from Masiphumelele the public transport connections are not good and the ever increasing price of petrol has seen bus and minibus taxi fares spiral in recent times. Most students manage to make it back home once or twice a month but it can be a long journey, involving a combination of minibuses and metrorail trains. The convoluted journey offers the reward of a chance to catch up with friends from schooldays, many of whom are now working, or looking for work, in the shops and businesses around the peninsula. It offers a good chance to make contacts for part time work when the university term comes to an end. Although many of Masiphumelele’s residents head off to the Eastern Cape over the summer holidays, the break is a time to earn much needed funds to support the student lifestyle. Already Avile is looking forward to cooking hamburgers again and Ntebuheleng has an offer to work at the Food Lovers Market in the local mall.
The days away from home are spent studying but of course there needs to be time to unwind. Thanks to the high quality internet in the university residences where Avile, Aluncedo and Andisiwe stay, gathering around a laptop to stream the latest movies is a possibility. All students share a room with another student so they have the opportunity to make new friends straight away. However, it is not always possible for Masicorp to secure rooms at the residence and for Zodwa and Ntebuheleng life is a little different in a private house. They share with four other girls and have quickly established a cooking rota to pool their skills (and money) in the communal kitchen.
Sadly it is not always such a pleasant experience. Zodwa and a friend were held up at knifepoint when returning home one evening and their phones were stolen. Fortunately the traumatic experience does not seem to have discouraged her from continuing her studies but has been yet another challenge to overcome in that difficult first semester away from home. Everyone is coping well with the changes in their life over the past six months and all the students were raring to go back to the city to continue their studies when we spoke this week. It is not just academic ability but also attitude that makes a success of higher education and fortunately it seem this year’s students have made an excellent transition to life away from home.
It’s exactly half way through the academic year here in South Africa and so yesterday was the perfect time to catch up with our first year bursary students. With their first four modules completed and the examinations behind them this was their last week back in Masiphumulele before the new semester begins. Next week all five return to Cape Town for the start of four more modules and more long days of study.
Aluncedo has spent the break with family in the Eastern Cape but Zodwa, Ntebuheleng, Andisiwe and Avile all met us for a late breakfast and took the time to update us on their progress so far. And what tremendous progress it has been. All five students have passed all of their respective modules with Avile even modestly announcing his distinction (82%) in computation and numerical analysis. The pass mark for each module is 50% (that’s higher than in many first year courses in Europe and the States!) and everyone made the grade. This is really a huge achievement, which all of the group should be proud of. The first semester of any higher education course can be a serious challenge. For all of the students this is their first experience of living away from home and all of them admitted the step up from high school learning to higher education was a huge leap.
All five students were also pleased with their course content and are satisfied they have made the right choice. Problems with the course material at this level or the move away from home usually materialise in the first semester for new university students. After the first group of modules students usually have a good idea if the course they have chosen is both suitable and enjoyable. The fact that everyone in the group remain confident that they are studying the right course for their future – and of course the 100% pass rate – is a good sign that everything is going well for the group.