Committed to succeed with the academic project and to remain sustainable as a leading higher education institution, Stellenbosch University (SU) will be welcoming first-year students to its campuses this week in a slightly different way than before in order to adhere to all COVID-19 protocols to keep infections low and protect the health services.
This year, the University has adapted its annual weeklong Welcoming Programme to a comprehensive two-week programme for first-year students, which is focused on providing a transformative student experience within the provisions of COVID-19 protocols.
Another new edition this year to enhance the welcoming of newcomers was the introduction of the online Onboarding Programme that was rolled out early in February already. This exciting programme aims to orientate students that will be with us for the first time and prepare them for the practical aspects of their studies. The Onboarding Programme is available on SUNLearn (the University's learning management system), where students will spend a lot of time during their study career.
Some components of the SU Welcoming Programme over the next two weeks will be conducted online to avoid large gatherings, but certain elements, which can be carried out within the confines of the COVID-19 regulations, will continue in person.
One of the main events that had to be reimagined this year was the official welcoming, which usually sees thousands of students and their families gather at the Danie Craven Stadium for the official Welcome Event. This year, students will have the opportunity to visit the stadium when they participate in a flag planting. To avoid crowding, students will have the opportunity to visit the stadium and plant a welcome flag.
Another key welcoming moment will take place on Thursday evening, when students will participate in the dream walk in Victoria Street. This initiative began three years ago, and sees students pass underneath a banner hanging over Victoria Street, which symbolically marks the very moment that they start their academic journey at SU. Students will also get the opportunity to attach a card with their hand-written dreams on one of the trees lining Victoria Street.
Students will walk in groups of roughly 50 down Victoria Street. Later that evening, the welcoming speech of Prof Wim de Villiers, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, will be released on social media.
Mr Pieter Kloppers, Director: Centre for Student Communities and coordinator of the Welcoming Programme, says many of the welcoming activities will take place online together with key experiences such as the dream walk and planting of flags to lay the foundation for the start of their academic journey. This will remind them of their collective effort in being academically successful and thus plays an important role in achieving academic success.
“There are two things that we need to help new students with. It is essential that they clear up the uncertainty of where they fit in socially in this new phase of their life; secondly, they need to find an inner confidence that they are up to the academic task and that support exists to help them succeed," says Kloppers.
For example, with the planting of the flags, the newcomers will symbolically claim their place at SU. It means they have a space to transform, grow and influence, says Kloppers.
The Welcoming Programme is on the University's website, www.sun.ac.za. The full week's welcoming programme and information on among others the registration schedule, personal safety, the library, free writing advice and faculties' welcoming programmes are available here.