The StudyTrust Summer and Winter Seminars have become popular events in the student calendar. Various programmes address the capabilities needed for success at higher education and in the workplace.
The StudyTrust Summer Seminar for first year students is offered every year in January, before the universities start. Aspirant students arrive at the Summer Seminar with excitement and anxiety as they prepare for a new stage in their growth. Several students begin this stage with uncertainty as they lack secure accommodation, have limited funds, arrive in an unfamiliar and intimidating metropolis with few if any friendly faces and have left all that is familiar behind.
Significantly, StudyTrust is the first community they engage with therefore the focus on building community is crucial to the survival of the first year student. Without the sense of belonging that community affords, many students risk failure because of bewilderment and a perceived lack of support. The summer seminar aims at reducing that perception by introducing students to the potential pitfalls as well as the means of either avoiding them or swimming with the current through the RAPID model.
This 5-day seminar, of which the manual was published as GRAD, cost an average of R5000 per student. This cost is not included in the administration percentage charged for bursary administration and student support as described above. Only beneficiaries whose investors are willing to cover the additional cost are invited to the Summer Seminar.
The annual Winter Seminar is a fruit of our collaboration with the Sasol Inzalo Foundation (SaIF) that started in 2010. As the bursary beneficiaries of the Sasol Inzalo Foundation made progress through their academic programmes, we added new programmes to assist them in preparing for the various transitions – from school to university, from first years to second year, etc., and finally from university to the world of work. Other investors have since enabled their beneficiaries to participate in this popular event.
Participants in the first year programme at the Winter Seminar are typically fresh from their first ever failed examinations and are now, in stark contrast to when we met them at the orientation seminar at the beginning of the year, most receptive to advice. Many of them have reached the bottom of the descent into the underworld and if they do not find an alternative approach to their studies soon, not only their dreams and ideals will evaporate, but families and whole communities will be adversely affected. The combination of innovation and critical and mathematical thinking they encounter at the Winter Seminar is for many the first step of the recovery, and they derive courage from the fact that they manage to solve the difficult problems posed during the programme.
The theory on which the design of our programmes is based provides for a real-life problem that is addressed by individuals working in groups or teams (collaborating communities) established around a common basic purpose and using tools to reach the desired outcome (goal). The problem-based, project-oriented learning process includes a project planning session on the first evening. On the final evening teams present the results of their work to the whole group. Facilitators assist the groups in identifying the real-life problems to be focussed on in the process of knowledge integration.
Five different programmes are offered over 6 days to students in their respective year groups.
1. First year students participate in one of two programmes, aimed at supporting the transition into first year; self-efficacy, mathematical thinking, and social integration
1.1 Engineering and natural science students participate in a programme facilitated by the Ukuqonda Institute entitled “Threshold Concepts in Mathematics, Science and Technology”. They will grapple with complicated problems involving the application of their mathematical and scientific knowledge and be encouraged to cultivate an approach to learning that involves asking questions with a view to produce solutions and answers which make sense to them. The programme is informed by the need to wean students from the predominant learning culture in schools of simply trying to establish what actions the teacher wants them to perform, without any real attempt to make sense of questions and problems or the logic and purpose of the actions; and thoughtless practising of demonstrated processes while remaining dependent on the teacher to inform them whether their working and end-results are correct (“rote learning”) (Ukuqonda.org.za).
Students also participate in a half-day innovation skills workshop facilitated by SynNovation, the so-called “Toolkit for Ideas” (Synnovation.co.za).
1.2 Commerce, Humanities and Social Science students participate in a Life Skills programme facilitated by Free To Grow (Freetogrow.com). The topics addressed include Future Orientation, Strong self-esteem, Ownership, Adaptability, Self-efficacy, and Achievement orientation.
The SynNovation “Toolkit for Ideas” is also part of the programme.
2. Second/Third year student programme: Environmental problem-solving through knowledge integration and collaboration
Students are introduced to an environmental problem through readings, presentations from a panel of experts and a field trip to a site where the problem is manifest. They then work in teams on a project designed to address the problem and move towards a solution. The real-life problem is used to facilitate knowledge integration – as a further step in the process started by Ukuqonda in the first year.
3. Second/Third year student programme: The Socionext Social Entrepreneurship Challenge
Participants engage in social innovation and develop their entrepreneurial talent by creating viable, sustainable and profitable social businesses. A business idea creation workshop is followed by Socionext Africa taking the participants through the Lean Start Up process, including the development of a business model canvas and up to the design and testing of a minimum viable product that teams present for the title of winners of the challenge (Socionext.org).
The students learn how to be creative, and how to collaborate and communicate and an entrepreneurial disposition is encouraged, not only in view of their future role as innovative employees and potential business owners, but also fundamentally in terms of making a shift from being passive consumers of knowledge to being active problem-solvers and solution seekers.
4. Final year student programme: Work Readiness
With the end of the university experience in sight, final year students are preparing for the next great transition – entering the world of work. The 4 Cs of 21st learning skills are supported in a programme with the overarching theme “The challenges and opportunities of difference in the South African workplace”, consisting of
• A one day Toolbox for Brainwaves workshop facilitated by SynNovation (Synnovation.co.za)
• A two day workshop demonstrating systems thinking and knowledge integration facilitated by Business Education Design (Bused.co.za)
• A 1.5 day workshop addressing emotional intelligence for a diverse workplace facilitated by JvR Academy (JVRacademy.co.za)
• A half day workshop on CV writing and interview skills facilitated by Tranceform Recruitment (Tranceformrec.co.za)