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OPTIMUS Programme boosts top undergraduate achievers
Author: Daniel Bugan
Published: 13/02/2020

​Excellence and achievement were celebrated as the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences (EMS) welcomed the top second- and third-year students in the faculty to the launch of the 2020 OPTIMUS programme at a cocktail event on Monday.

The top achievers attending the event included 34 second-years selected to be part of the programme for 2020, as well as 35 third-years from the 2019 cohort of students.

The OPTIMUS programme provides exceptional undergraduate achievers with academic enrichment, leadership and professional development opportunities. The holistic co-curricular programme also focuses on elements such as networking; social impact awareness; developing a global mindset and innovation.

Since inception in 2016, the OPTIMUS programme has catered for 33-35 top academic achievers in each department in the faculty every year, many of them achieving more than 80% in their first year of study. Selected students are requested to commit for two years – the second year of their studies and first term of the third year of their studies.

According to Dr Sharon Malan, coordinator of the OPTIMUS programme, the aim of the event is for the second- and third-year students to get to know each other and to get inspiration from their academic advocates – faculty academics who help develop the students as leaders in their fields.

The programme is the brainchild of Prof Ronel du Preez, Vice-Dean (Teaching and Learning), who wanted to create an initiative for exceptional students.

In her opening address, Du Preez reminded the students that they are the beneficiaries of something very special.

“We believe that by providing you with a stimulating environment, we can develop you holistically so that you can qualify for the big bursaries, the big exchanges and to become the thought leaders of tomorrow. Over time we want to build a group of alumni so that you can stay in touch with each other and use those contacts in the outside world," she said.

Also in attendance were faculty advocates Hylton Hollander and Stephen Burgess who shared valuable advice and lessons learned with the students in their talk entitled, “This is my story: What I wish I knew at 20".

Burgess, of the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, said he wished he had made better use of his opportunities when he was a 20-year-old student.

He urged the students to attend seminars, to enrol in more classes, to expand their horizons by reading different books, and to ask more questions.

Hollander, a lecturer in the Department of Economics, warned the students against being too goal-driven and neglecting things such as hobbies and sleep.

“Also, learn to enjoy failure, let it become the food which allows you to learn and grow," he added.

Dané Odendaal, a second-year student in Actuarial Science, said she hoped the programme will provide her with networking opportunities.

“I have big dreams for my future, but I do not know how I'm going to make those dreams a reality. I think (the programme) will help me get to know people such as industry leaders and those who know a lot more than I do who can help me get to where I want to be," she said.

Thandeka Mchune, a third-year Management Accounting student, said being involved in the programme has bolstered her self-confidence.

“I am basically an introvert and very scared of meeting new people. However, through its emphasis on networking, the programme has provided me with a platform to meet and to speak to people on a regular basis," she said.

Mchune said the academic support she received has also helped her to settle on the career path she wants to pursue.

The students are now scheduled to attend a wellness fun day at the Stellenbosch Sports Academy to help them build team spirit and cohesion.

​On 24 February three other faculty advocates – Roelof Baard, Lucas Steyn and Pierre Erasmus – will share advice with the students on topics such as how to buy your first house and pay your bond, how to invest as well as ideas on financial planning.

  • Photo by Anton Jordaan: The new intake of the OPTIMUS Programme comprises 34 second-years​, all of them top achievers.