Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Mentorship Programme

Yesterday morning I had my first training to be a mentor with the Extended Degree Programme of the Humanities Faculty of UCT next year. It was great to meet the other mentees—though from the looks of it, I’ll be the only American and the only postgrad mentor. Eep.

Every department has an Extended Degree Programme, and this is how it works:  Next year, about 300 first year students will begin in the Humanities Department who didn’t get enough points on the matriculation exam to meet UCT’s requirements, but have demonstrated academic potential and drive in other ways. (If you want to learn more about the vastly unequal education system in this country, read here.) The usual Humanities degree here takes three years, but these students are admitted to an extended four-year programme, which lightens the course load a bit to make it more manageable. (And apparently, two-thirds  of all Humanities students take four years to finish the degree already—and this means failing classes, incurring unexpected costs of an extra two semesters, and no small amount of frustration and disappointment. There should be absolutely no shame in stretching that course load over four years—hey, it’s standard practice in the States where I earned my BA.)

Every mentor is assigned five mentees who are beginning their first year—so that will happen for me in January 2012. So excited!

Yesterday was about meeting the other mentors and the Humanities EDP staff.  We were also briefed about what we can expect, practically and emotionally, from the mentor experience.

There is a stigma attached to the EDP—some students feel like they don’t belong there, or that taking four years to finish their degree is a negative comment on their intelligence or abilities. So, some mentees resist you from the get-go. Yikes. We’ll also have more in-depth training about boundaries and other big concerns in January, right before the next school year starts. Intimidating!

One thing I am nervous about is that I didn’t have my undergrad experience at UCT, so I’m worried I won’t be helpful enough if my mentees are struggling with administrative issues. (Even though I had heavy admin issues this year, I must admit.) Also, it floors me that next year I will be eight years older than the incoming first-year class. AWHAT?

But overall, I’m excited to begin. I have been very aware of the lack of support for students as people at this institution—as researchers, yes, we are supported. We get support as theorists and paper-writers… but in terms of personal development and emotional support? This university is SORELY lacking. It is easy for struggling students to slip through the cracks, and peer-to-peer networks can be life-saving.

I think student support is desperately important in a South African context as well. Because people are still separated—geographically, economically, culturally—little pockets of opportunity exist for a small elite, and if you’re not born into privilege, it is incredibly hard to access it. Education is one way to access more opportunity, but UCT remains a formidable campus with an intimidating culture. I am personally invested in breaking down some of those walls as best I can. So bring on the mentees!


  1. big things! 2012 is going to be a great year for you.. : )

  2. Thanks dear! Let's hope the Mayans were wrong and the wrold doesn't end :P