At the NWU, community engagement is integrated into the core business of teaching and learning and research. This means staff are expected to do engaged teaching and research, says Prof Marilyn Setlalentoa, deputy vice-chancellor for community engagement and Mafikeng Campus operations.
eish! asked her to tell us who benefits from community engagement, who the main role players are and how important the impact of our activities is.
Q: Who benefits from community engagement at the NWU?
A: Our students, staff and communities all benefit.
Students are mainly involved in two ways. Firstly discipline-based outreach gives them opportunities for service learning. Secondly, when they participate as volunteers in various structured community service projects run by the student campus councils, they learn to become responsible, caring citizens.
When it comes to our staff members, our engagement activities involve research about, with and in communities, enabling our academics to conduct research that addresses real-life problems, while also learning from our communities. Their research also leads to research publications or innovations.
As we focus on sustainable and developmental engagement, the communities benefit when our experts share their knowledge and find solutions to the problems they experience.
As you can see, the emphasis is on mutual benefit.
Q: Who are the main role players on our campuses?
A: In the faculties, deputy deans responsible for community engagement coordinate the activities. With regard to students, our student campus councils have designated committee members for community engagement.
Q: Do we have a coordinating body?
A: Yes, we have a unit called Sustainability and Community Impact, with Bibi Bouwman as the director.
Besides Bibi, the unit has two other members. Dr Miranda Mgijima is the manager for engaged teaching and learning, and Dr Hendri Coetzee is the manager for engaged research. A third position, that of manager for stakeholder relations, is currently vacant.
The unit’s office is situated in Potchefstroom, but coordinates community engagement in all faculties across all campuses on a macro level.
One of its main tasks is to link communities’ needs with the expertise available at the university. They also liaise with outside bodies such as NGOs and companies who are looking for opportunities to implement their corporate social responsibility in communities. These organisations often engage the Sustainability and Community Impact unit for community impact studies.
Furthermore, the unit works closely with the student campus councils by facilitating training for students who are involved in community engagement activities.
Q: How do you know if our activities really bear fruit?
A: It is very important that our engagement in communities has real impact and is sustainable.
In the end, there must be measurable changes in the communities beyond the scope of any specific project. When the NWU finally withdraws, these positive changes must prevail.
One can actually compare community engagement to a tree. The roots of the tree are the faculties and disciplines at the university, while the trunk is the university with its support and resources. The branches are the community stakeholders, and the leaves the individual community members.
When all the different parts of this tree of engagement work together, they produce fruit, which symbolises the impact that our activities have in the communities.
We invite all NWU staff to continue to implement our expertise, knowledge and experience to make an impact in the communities.
Q: For more information about community engagement, contact these staff members in the faculties:
A: Humanities: Prof Aaron Tshidzumba; Engineering: Hannes du Toit; Law: Adv Renè Koraan; Economics and Management Sciences: Prof Ntebo Moroke; Theology: Prof Vhumani Magezi; Health Sciences: Prof Andrew Robinson; Education: Dr Elize Kung; Natural and Agricultural Sciences: Prof Rodney Medupe.
You can also contact Bibi Bouwman at Sustainability and Community Impact.
Deputy vice-chancellor Prof Marilyn Setlalentoa's background as social worker stands her in good stead when it comes to her community engagement tasks.