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More than 50 first-generation SU students SOAR at December 2023 graduation
Author: Corporate Communications and Marketing (Anél Lewis)
Published: 18/12/2023

Last week, 56 first-generation students across various faculties who have passed through Stellenbosch University’s (SU) SOAR programme completed their academic journey as they ascended the podium at the Coetzenburg Centre to proudly receive their degrees. 

SOAR, which is an acronym for Strengths, Opportunity, Agency, and Resilience, started as a pre-welcoming programme for students who are the first from their families to attend a university or SU. It has been designed to boost first-generation students’ confidence while helping them familiarise themselves with their new living and learning environment.  

Without the intervention of a programme like SOAR, there are students who would give up on their studies within the first year, says SOAR founder and programme leader Joy Petersen 

“Many of our students who started this journey (with SOAR) were registered for four-year programmes and we are extremely proud of them for achieving their degrees within the required time.” 

Falak Modi and Ayron Gallop are the first women engineers involved in the SOAR programme to graduate, says Petersen. Modi specialised in mechanical engineering: mechatronics, while Gallop studied civil engineering. Both will start their careers in Gauteng next year.  

Katekani Khosa, Erin van der Westhuizen, Leverne Christiaansen, Salome Smith, Wildene Goliath, and Matheko Khau are part of the first cohort of the Bachelor of Nursing which was offered for the first time in 2019.  

SOAR students have a strong presence in the Faculty of Education where Shahied Jantjies, Deboney Laban, Ainsley Wilson, Aneekah Cooksen, Caitlyn Miell, Courtney Nieweveldt, Logan Leonard, Rojee Ramjee, and William Sezoe were among the B. Ed students graduating on Friday (15 December). Sezoe, who took part in the SOAR programme in 2020, was vice-chair of the Student Representative Council (SRC) for 2023. “I am immensely grateful that I could be a part of the SOAR family. This programme helped me navigate the space as a first-generation student in a place as huge, diverse, and esteemed as SU. It was through the programme that I met great friends, mentors and now colleagues, who helped me to keep my head high and make it to graduation this week.” 

Sezoe added that as SOAR’s main objective is to help students graduate, he hopes it will be able to accommodate more students in future, particularly from communities where there is otherwise not much motivation to study further. He admits that he almost dropped out during his second year when he felt that “this thing was just not for me”. But adds, “I am glad I had someone like Joy Petersen who said: ‘You have come too far to give up now’, and here we are (at graduation).” 

Since its relaunch as an intentional programme aimed at first-generation students in 2020, the SOAR programme has evolved into a SOAR network with alumni volunteering to mentor newcomers adapting to life on campus. This year, 42 students applied to be mentors during the programme, which takes place annually just before the First-Year Welcoming Programme kicks off in January. 

PHOTO: The group of education students who graduated on Friday 15 December with SOAR founder and programme leader Joy Petersen.