Universities can be quite daunting for learners who have no experience of academic or tertiary institutions. On 10 May the Faculty of Engineering welcomed top learners in Grades 11 and 12 whose parents have not had the opportunity to study at a university. During this event, called the First Generation Experience, learners could feel the exciting vibe of campus, hear about the six Engineering Programmes and even meet the Dean.
This exciting new outreach is the brainchild of August Engelbrecht who is responsible for student recruitment and retention at the Faculty of Engineering. Where does his bright idea come from? Mr Engelbrecht explains: "Participation in higher education in South Africa is still very low compared to more advanced economies. We should promote university education, especially in the coloured and black communities in the Western Cape. Since many parents of top achieving learners did not experience tertiary education, for instance in Engineering, there is a lack of role models for the younger generation. The result is that Engineering is not a preferred career choice amongst the youth of certain communities. Furthermore, Stellenbosch University is not well known in these communities.
He continues: "Many learners in these areas do well at school despite challenges, such as a lack of proper infrastructure at their schools. They are often unaware of the many doors of opportunity good results in Mathematics and Science can open for them. These communities have a lot of talent and potential but sadly, it is largely underutilised."
He elaborates: "The marvellous response from schools and learners overwhelmed us! We welcomed 134 keen learners from 25 schools at our pilot event. Although most of the learners hail from quantile 1 to 3 schools, we invited schools from all over the spectrum. Some of the schools that were represented, were: Centre for Science and Technology (COSAT) in Khayelitsha, Claremont High School, DF Malan High School, Kayamandi Secondary School, Kylemore Secondary School, Parel Vallei High School and Paul Roos Gymnasium.
The Dean, Prof Wikus van Niekerk, welcomed the "First Generation Learners" with this thought-provoking message: "Engineers are among the most valued professionals in the world today." One of Faculty's young lecturers, Prof Cara Schwarz, also addressed the crowd. She is a reputable researcher and a shining example of a first generation student who excelled at university. She encouraged the learners with these words: "I was also a first generation student. My dream became a reality...never stop pursuing your dreams..."
The Faculty of Engineering invited Dr Gillian Arendse, Deputy Director: Centre for Student Recruitment and Career Advice, as motivation speaker, and collaborated with colleagues from the Faculties of Natural Science and AgriSciences to present the learners with more options in the Science, Engineering and Technology fields of study. This was followed by a guided tour through campus, the Neelsie Student Centre, residences and a visit to AmaMaties HUB. (See the full programme here.)
A very satisfied Mr Engelbrecht concludes: "Our next step is to nurture the Grade 12s in this group who apply in time for Engineering studies and who are accepted provisionally for study in 2019. We would like to invite them to experience a class first hand in the September school holidays. In the longer term, we will also keep a close eye on the Grade 11s who show an interest in Engineering as a career. We intend to have a similar function again next year."
August Engelbrecht (the adult in the group) and the keen, top achieving learners who attended the First Generation Experience on 2018.05.10 at the Faculty of Engineering.