By Thobani Mesani
Growing students who are critical thinkers, understand their context and are socially responsive is very important to Rhodes University. Through community engagement, the university has and continues to create engaged learning opportunities for its students and these include service learning, engaged learning through volunteerism, student sports clubs and societies, or the citywide Vuka Makana initiative.
Volunteerism at Rhodes University is taken very seriously, with community partner organisations co-managing programmes. Students have a huge choice of where they wish to serve and which programmes to be involved in. The university’s Community Engagement Division offers an array of volunteer programmes – Engaged Citizen Programme, 9/10ths Mentoring Programme, BuddingQ and Siyakhana @ Makana.
Engaged Citizen Programme (ECP) – The aim of the ECP is to introduce students to community engagement at Rhodes University, in particular the principles of community engagement. ECP is a Rhodes accredited short course, considered the flagship programme of RUCE.
9/10ths Mentoring Programme – Nine Tenths is a mentoring programme geared towards equipping matric students in selected local schools to cope with their final year of school and to pass to their full potential. Pupils are given one-on-one attention from highly trained Rhodes University students through nine guided and structured contact sessions.
BuddingQ – BuddingQ’s aim is to support Early Childhood Development centres in producing quality, holistic school readiness programmes and contribute to the improvement of Early Childhood Literacy Development (emergent literacy skills, specifically for Grade R children (5-6 year-olds).
Siyakhana @ Makana – Siyakhana@Makana is a project planning process, which aims to support students who seek to build meaningful relationships with community organisations, while working towards a shared co-created project. Working with a select group of dedicated student organisations, student residences/halls, community organisations, and independent student teams, Siyakhana@Makana groups co-create projects based on shared goals and interests from start to finish.
Partnerships are an important aspect of community engagement. The university values all its partners and seeks to form mutually beneficial relationships. Partners are hands-on when it comes to planning engaged programmes. The university has adapted a co-management approach where partners co-create, co-execute and co-evaluate engaged programmes’ activities.
Rhodes is a research-intense university and being the only one outside of an urban area, this creates many opportunities for engagement. Over the past four years, the Community Engagement Division has experienced a steady growth in the number of research outputs. Our researchers are publishing in high impact international journals and presenting at prestigious international conferences. All of this highlights the growing expertise in the emerging discipline of the Scholarship of Engagement at Rhodes University, which is now recognised as a national leader for engaged research.
Due to the many crises that we are faced with in Makana, a Vuka Makana initiative to assist in combating such was created. Vuka Makana is a call for the Makana public and Rhodes community to join forces in the fight for the betterment of our community. Going above and beyond encouraging citizens to do good and volunteer their time and services, the initiative calls for diverse individuals to integrate, communicate and collaborate in order to brighten up the city. Vuka Makana is about giving and taking, teaching and learning – offer your services to improve an aspect of the city and in return, take something back from the community that you can integrate into your everyday life.
In all, community engagement at Rhodes University is very much about creating spaces outside of the lecture theatre, where students can engage with community partner organisations in their chosen discipline or in an area that interests them. The social and educational capital of our students is powerful and their efforts have had considerable impact in public education over the past four years of the Vice-Chancellor’s education initiative. They are working at all levels of education; but as an example of the impact, 30 of the pupils from the Nine Tenths mentoring programme are now registered at Rhodes as full-time students for 2020.
Research has shown that Rhodes University nurtures critical citizenship and students who are involved in community engagement at the university have strong discourse of being well-rounded people with deeper understanding of context.
More information on community engagement at Rhodes University is available on our website, www.ru.ac.za/communityengagement, and also our social media platforms:
– Twitter & Instagram – @ruengagement
– Facebook – RUCE: Rhodes University Community Engagement
- Thobani Mesani is a staff member at RUCE