Having missed out on admission to the mainstream Engineering degree at Stellenbosch University (SU) by two points, Megan Versfeld was given the option of taking part in the Extended Degree Programme (EDP). “At first, I was very negative, but then my brother told me: 'What's better than four years at varsity? Five years!' I actually ended up spending seven years at varsity," she smiles.
SU's EDP adds an extra year of study to a mainstream degree programme. The added year is used to offer students additional academic support to prepare them for mainstream subjects specifically and university studies in general.
Megan, who grew up in Pretoria, was keen to have the full experience of varsity and residence life, and decided that Stellenbosch was the place for her. “So, I took the plunge and enrolled for the EDP," she says. “The faculty secretary explained the process, and I soon realised it was really a type of bridging year between school and university. In the second year, you switch to the mainstream programme."
Looking back, Megan, now aged 29, knows her decision to do the EDP was the best one she could have made at the time. She started in 2012, completed her degree in 2016, and then went on to obtain a master's degree in Engineering Management. She secured employment at Kumba Iron Ore in the Northern Cape, where she has been working for the past four years.
“The EDP made the transition from high school to university, and from living at home to residence life, a great deal easier," she says. “There was never too much pressure. The EDP year gave me the opportunity to fully explore the University, including the social and residence life, and to balance it with my academics." In fact, Megan believes one of the biggest lessons she learnt was balance. “I had no option but to manage myself. My mother was no longer around to tell me to study. I had to become an adult. That initial year of finding my feet as an adult really helped me a lot."
In a delightful twist of fate, Megan met her husband, Ryno Versfeld, while sitting in the office of Engineering faculty secretary Minnaar Pienaar. “We had the same problem. He was also exploring the EDP, and we both ended up enrolling for it. We became friends during our first year, and we started dating in the second year.
“Ryno is a mechanical engineer, and after he completed his degree, he got the opportunity to work at Kumba and gain experience across various mines," Megan explains. “While he had already started working for Kumba, I was doing my master's over two years and would go and spend ten days with him every six weeks. After I graduated with my master's, I also applied to Kumba and was offered a job!
“We are based in the remote town of Kathu. It's a very red town! It's not often that people say they really want to be here, but we are very happy. Ryno is the engineering manager on one of the processing plants, and I am an operational planning advisor. I love my work. It involves a lot of strategic thinking, long-term planning, and assessing the business cycle for the next five years."
Skills for life
In many ways, the EDP set her up with life skills that have stayed with her, including “time management and taking ownership for my own actions", Megan says. “The pressure of attending class and passing all the subjects was not nearly as high as it would have been had I done the mainstream programme from the first year. When I left for Stellenbosch, many people told my mother it would be three months, then I'd be back in Pretoria. Thanks to the EDP, that was not the case, but it would have been a different story if I had the workload of the mainstream programme from the get-go. I was able to ease into varsity life and fully enjoy the first year."
Megan and Ryno, a Namibian by birth, hope to stay in Kathu for a few more years and would also like to work with the same company in Namibia to gain more experience. For now, though, the couple are involved in a number of local community activities, including helping out at a school. And as befits an SU graduate, this lifelong learner continues to upskill by doing short courses.
In her free time, Megan also enjoys exercising. “A month ago, I did an 18 km trail run at Augrabies waterfall. It was the best experience I've had in a long time. It was just beautiful."