Stellenbosch University
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SU honours first-year achievers and their inspirational lecturers
Author: Corporate Communications and Marketing
Published: 09/04/2024

Stellenbosch University's (SU) annual First-year Achievement Awards ceremony, held at STIAS recently, was a vibrant get-together attended by top students, lecturers, deans and vice-deans. Hosted by Prof Deresh Ramjugernath, Vice-Rector: Learning and Teaching, the prestigious occasion served not only to reward the efforts of the first-year students of 2023 but also aimed to spotlight the crucial role lecturers play in their students' achievements.

Prof Lis Lange, Acting Senior Director for the Division for Learning and Teaching Enhancement welcomed the 33 highest-achieving first-year students from 2023 across all faculties as well as the lecturers who inspired them. Each student had the opportunity to invite a lecturer who they believed had made the most significant contribution to their academic success. The top performers were asked to express their appreciation in a letter addressed to the lecturer.

Reciprocally, each selected lecturer wrote a letter of recognition and encouragement to the nominating student, detailing the reasons behind the students' success. Excerpts from these letters were showcased during the event and were later displayed on the Centre for Teaching and Learning website.

Heartfelt messages

Students credited their lecturers for making learning an exciting, thought-provoking experience, encouraging critical thinking and fostering a supportive environment that eased academic anxieties. “Your way of teaching was such a joy to experience. It truly felt like you wanted us to succeed and believed in the success of each of your students," one student wrote. “My hunger to learn grew and drove me to learn eagerly and with genuine enjoyment," another student said.

Being part of a learning institution where striving for excellence is encouraged, supported and acknowledged is conducive to excellence in teaching, a lecturer wrote. “A challenge that most lecturers face teaching first years, is that real learning can only take place once the learner takes responsibility for and actively engages in the learning process."

Another lecturer encouraged students to help fellow students understand and make sense of learning. “Be the person who helps others climb up and you'll find happiness and fulfilment in all that you do."

Wise words about life choices

The guest speaker at the ceremony Prof Susan van Schalkwyk, Director of the Centre for Health Professions Education, gave an inspiring message on the importance of life choices. She explained the difference between small and significant choices, highlighting that choices shape our lives and careers.

“Making choices sets the bar, sets us up for achievement, determines the extent to which we will take a risk, put ourselves out there, take on new challenges, test our endurance and commitment," Van Schalkwyk said. She encouraged the audience to consider the consequences of their actions, the values that guide their decisions and the critical reflection needed in a world inundated with information.

“Tonight, we celebrate your achievements, and are grateful for the series of choices, some of which were probably quite tough, and required your commitment, your dedication, bringing you here this evening. We thank you for setting the bar high, for putting yourselves out there. We acknowledge every teacher in this room, and thank you for the times that you, whether consciously or unconsciously, spoke into the decision making of your students," Van Schalkwyk concluded. 

List of winners