School of Life Sciences

First-year UKZN students were treated to an informative and engaging virtual Orientation Week.

UKZN Hosts Successful Virtual Orientation Week

First-year students in the 2022 academic year were welcomed with a comprehensive, action-packed, virtual Orientation Week presented by UKZN’s four Colleges and the International Office.

The College of Health Sciences (CHS) programme kicked off with a welcome Orientation Ceremony on 7 February focusing on the importance of maintaining positive mental health.

CHS Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head Professor Busisiwe Ncama said: ‘We received 55 992 applications for 940 first year places in the CHS. You are the cream of the crop, the students who excelled in Grade 12, and we are excited to have such young, shining stars join us. Further, our College has a proud history of producing some of the world’s most prestigious health scientists and clinicians, many of whom will be teaching, mentoring and guiding you through your years with us. One of the most impactful examples of excellence in science was the discovery of the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus which was made by our very own Professor Tulio de Oliveira, Director of KRISP.’

CHS Dean of Teaching and Learning Professor Sinegugu Duma focused on support provided in the College to first years which includes services such as academic support, student funding, teaching and learning, a mentorship programme and student counselling. Manager of Student Support Services Dr Saloschini Pillay emphasised the importance of students being actively involved in their educational journey, while outlining key support services available, including the newly-developed UKZN-wide First Year Experience programme.

Guest speaker from the Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Memorial Hospital Dr Hlengiwe Hlela connected with the students on a very personal level when she highlighted the scourge of gender-based violence and knowing one’s rights. UKZN alumni and twins Drs Ishq and Ashiq Pramchand gave a fun presentation on their student journey, offering useful tips for academic success and holistic health. The key message from the brothers was: ‘Enjoy your journey at UKZN, have a lot of fun, learn a new language, pursue a healthy lifestyle and strive for excellence.’

In the College of Humanities, a busy programme saw first-years being briefed on relevant topics such as campus safety, student support services, student governance, how to use the library and the LANs, student housing and residence life, sports facilities, student funding and, most important, essential university work habits for success.

DVC and Head of the College of Humanities Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize advised first-year students to be open-minded, to participate in community development and to experience the diversity of UKZN. ‘Have a vision and goals. Work towards the goal of graduating. See it, believe it and do it,’ said Mkhize.

Student Mr Siphelele Hlatshwayo told colleagues he chose UKZN because he believes ‘with the expertise and resources at the University, I will be able to become successful in my career choice’.

The orientation programme presented by the College of Law and Management Studies was different this year because of the introduction of First Year Experience (FYE). The ongoing programme championed by the Teaching and Learning Unit, featured a variety of activities, including an extended orientation, workshops, and social activities. The Unit’s Director Dr Annah Bengesai said the aim of the programme was to assist first-year students make the transition from high school to university but also to empower them with the skills necessary to have the best university experience.

‘University is very different to high school and you will experience a lot along the way,’ Bengesai told students. ‘That is why we are here to support you and help you navigate this transition. Our mentors will hold your hand and help you with the difficulties you face and we have resources and services to ensure that you make a successful transition. We hope you make use of them throughout your academic journey.’

The FYE kicked off with a five-day programme where students heard about Student Support Services for personal (psycho-social) needs and career issues, the handbook and UKZN academic services and systems. They also got answers to their burning financial aid and registration queries, and were allocated mentors.

Speaking on the peer mentor initiative, FYE Coordinator and BCom in Supply Chain and Economics graduate Mr Sthabiso Mkhonza said the aim was for first-year students to have a “big sister/brother” to help them deal with the academic and social anxiety of being a university student.

‘The mentors are here to help you overcome obstacles and give you the support and confidence you need to get through any situation,’ said Mkhonza. ‘We will help you create goals for the semester as well as your timetable to ensure that you are keeping up. We encourage every first-year student to ensure they are allocated a mentor and join the WhatsApp groups.’

Fellow co-ordinators Mr Kwazi Magubane and Ms Phethego Makaleng also gave the first-year students important advice on how to successfully navigate their transition to university.

In the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, the focus was on giving first-year students – many of whom are unfamiliar with the online world – practical tips and assistance for this exciting, if slightly overwhelming, new stage of their lives. Among other topics, students were taken step-by-step through the online registration process, enlightened about how to pay fees, told about the ins and outs of getting an email address, given details about campus access, permits and student cards, and told how to access their timetables. While two broad interactive Q&A sessions were held on the Monday and Tuesday of Orientation Week, five individual Zoom rooms – one for each School in the College – were open throughout the week and manned by academic staff so that concerned students could access individual help with module choices and other registration queries.

‘As a College, we are committed to doing everything in our power to assist our students overcome the challenges of online learning and succeed in their academic career,’ said Dean of Teaching and Learning in the College, Professor Naven Chetty. ‘We are here to help.’

The International Relations programme aimed at helping students prepare for the 2022 academic year, was facilitated by Ms Pauline Catalano, a French national who is part of the International Relations Staff Exchange Programme.

In her opening remarks, Executive Director: Corporate Relations Ms Normah Zondo explained how having international students as part of the student population at UKZN was proof of the impact the Institution continued to make globally.

Ms Mariam Jassat, a counselling psychologist from the Student Support Services Division, focused on some of the key service offerings provided by her division which include career and personal counselling, and student support and life skills development.

Urging students to use the services, Jassat said they could schedule an appointment on the toll-free number 0800 800 017 or by visiting the LEARN2022 Moodle page.

A consultant from Simeka Health, Ms Geshal Chettiar, focused on the Immigration Act that states that all international students studying in South Africa must be in possession of medical aid cover.

Chettiar encouraged students to complete or renew their application form online and advised them to access the medical schemes contact details on the UKZN intranet.

Other divisions featured in the event included; Library Services, Campus Health Clinics, Risk Management Services (RMS), the Sports Union, the Student Representative Council (SRC) and the International Student Association (ISA).

Words: MaryAnn FrancisMelissa MungrooThandiwe JumoSally Frost and Hlengiwe Khwela

Image: Supplied