Stellenbosch University
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“Cultivating a culture that promotes student success through meaningful co-curricular experiences”
Author: Tendani Tshauambea
Published: 04/10/2023

For the last few months, aspiring and existing student leaders have been undergoing leadership development training in preparation for student leadership elections across various student governance structures. The aim with all the training? To “cultivate students for a future of success".

“The goal is to provide students with practical skills through specialised training, focusing on interactive, student-centred sessions that address emotional intelligence and project management," says Dr Liezl Dick, Res-Ed Curriculum Coordinator at the Centre for Student Communities (CSC) within the Division Student Affairs (DSAf), of the recent training that house committee leaders from the residence and commuter student spaces underwent. Dick is tasked with developing student leaders at Stellenbosch University (SU)  along with staff in the Centre for the Student Leadership, Experiential Education and Citizenship (CSLEEC).

In July, the Leadership Summit for Aspiring Leaders (LSAL) was held at the Jan Mouton Learning Centre on Stellenbosch campus. LSAL is a leadership student engagement platform for aspiring and existing student leaders to develop their leadership skills. This year, students were able to engage and learn from well-known, respected leadership experts, discuss leadership challenges on campus with their peers, understand the role of student leaders in solving challenges faced by students today, particularly at SU, and start a conversation about innovative ways to tackle those challenges.

“The LSAL Programme is a leadership platform that was created for any students who wants to get involved in the student leadership space, whether positional or non-positional, and forms part of the FVZS and CSLEEC strategy to populate the leadership pipeline from the moment that students steps into the Higher Education space", says Spurgeon Wilson , Programme Manager at CSLEEC.

LSAL was organised around the theme of “Cultivating the leader within US" and introduced the participants to the concept of institutional culture and “its role in the operation and achievement of the goals of institutions of higher learning, specifically relating to inclusivity and diversity", Wilson added.

A total of 813 students applied to participate in LSAL 2023, 526 students participated in person while 287 joined online on the summit day. The introductory keynote address was given by Prof Heblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of the Witwatersrand. Prof Vilakazi set the tone for the summit by unpacking the different layers that impact institutional culture.

 The summit program consisted of panel discussions which delved deeper into “institutional culture, leadership and the student voice", and were moderated by SU staff and students. These helped students to make sense of institutional culture through their own values and how to deal with discomfort where values conflict. Ms Rukshana Parker, Private Law Lecturer at the SU Law Faculty delivered the closing keynote, discussing the mindset needed to address social and cultural change through leadership.

After the appointment of student leaders was concluded towards the end of August, student leadership training in student communities kicked off with the “Preparing for Constitutional Training" session held at Academia Hall.

Further leadership training included Mentor Training, Prim Camp, Newly Elected Leaders Conference (NELC), CSO StratCon, and Specialist HC Training.

“The aim of the various training opportunities is to ensure that student leaders are prepared for their leadership terms, are able to network with their peers and build on their existing experience," explained Dick.

While most of the training was held in Stellenbosch across different venues on campus, some of the training  took place in Grabouw and Piekernierskloof over multiple days. These included the Prim Camp and  the Commuter Student Organisation (CSO) Strategic Conference (CSO StratCon) from 12 to 14 September.

Sharing her experience of the HC Specialist Training, Hellen Mmile said: “I think listening to other people talk about how comprehensive and informative the specialist training was, and how much they enjoyed it made me envy the incoming HCs because I wish I had that opportunity to go in 'not so blind' into my leadership term." 

Leadership training forms a key part of the CSC's mission of cultivating a culture which promotes student success through meaningful co-curricular experiences. Further, they ensure that student leaders remain adaptable in an ever-changing social context that they must lead in.

 “The leadership training was an interesting event. I appreciate the time and effort put in to make it happen, and I believe we did benefit from it. Personally, because I'm part of the senior cluster, some sessions or talking points seemed irrelevant (such as the singing)", said by Siphiwe Phetla, an HC from Huis McDonald, in his feedback.

The ultimate goal according to Dick is the creation of leadership academy. 

We need to work towards a leadership academy, so that when students leave Stellenbosch University as leaders, people will know they were part of the Stellenbosch Leadership Academy, and that they have a certain kind of skill working with diverse students, and display accountable, effective and responsive leadership, which is not something that's really present in our country at the moment."