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She salutes Unisa for shaping her future

Lina Molebogeng Motlanthe

"Thank you Unisa for giving me the opportunity to define my tomorrow. You are, truly, the African university shaping futures in the service of humanity." This credit comes from Lina Molebogeng Motlanthe, a 31-year-old Unisa student from Lebowakgomo, Limpopo Province. Why would she salute Unisa so much?

Well, according to Motlanthe, she has been an average performer since her childhood days.

"Growing up, I was always considered last, not because I was the last born child but because my sisters were performing better academically and I was living under their shadow. I first registered my BA in Psychology and Communications in 2011 after completing the access programme at Unisa. The duration of my study was seven years as opposed to the three years allocated. As one can imagine, everyone around me including my entire family and friends had given up hope of me completing my studies. This led me to also have doubts in my capabilities; however, it made me eager to prove myself more than others wrong," she said.

The average-performer label was soon to be erased permanently because Motlanthe was eager to vindicate herself. In March 2017, she joined the Peer Help Programme in the Counselling Services Unit at the Polokwane Campus. The unit organises workshops such as exam preparedness, job-readiness, health and wellness, and diversity, as well as other motivation and counselling related sessions.

Motlanthe’s tenure in the Counselling Services Unit gave her confidence and self-esteem to work hard and define her tomorrow.

"The programme gave me an opportunity to interact with students in counselling and career guidance sessions. It gave me insight on the dynamics of students’ study methods (and whether they are effective); their social and study challenges; their needs (where learning is concerned); their performance; and so on," said Motlanthe.

Part of her reasons for joining the peer help programme was that she hoped it would enable her to move over to the Trainee Career Guidance Practitioner (TCGP) internship the following year (2018). However, she hit a snag.

"At the end of the year (2017), I discovered that I had left out one fundamental module in first year and 1 compulsory module in the second year, which meant that my qualification was not complete and that I could not apply for the TCGP internship. It also dawned on me that I did not qualify because I was not an honours degree student, which was one of the requirements in the programme. I felt that I was going to be bored the entire year doing two modules only. I needed a new challenge that could stretch me more," she said.

That challenge was two-pronged: First, to register for a short course in Office Management within Unisa, and second to participate in the Unisa Student Research and Innovation Showcase.

Finding other research participants was easy for Motlanthe because of her solid interpersonal skills.

"However, I encountered a financial problem in the sense that it was a burden for my single parent to ensure that I travelled from my home (Lebowakgomo) to Polokwane daily to conduct research. The other difficulty was that I had never written a research paper before. That meant I had to learn on my own. Also, I did not have experience in delivering presentations, I, therefore, had to learn how to put together a PowerPoint presentation in a short period of time. Stage fright was another hurdle that I had to shake off," said Motlanthe.

Her topic for the innovation challenge was entitled "CONT-MMUNITY: The age of alternative housing". The focus of her innovation project revolved around the need to take abandoned shipping containers lying unused in several townships and refurbish and convert them into four-bedroom houses in poorer communities. This, she argued, could help in alleviating the housing shortage. These containers used to be operated by vendors who used sell prepaid airtime vouchers, prepaid electricity and public-phone facilities.

Unfortunately, Motlanthe’s innovation idea was not chosen to go through to the finals. However, she did go to the final with something else that she worked on, namely, her research paper, entitled "The promotion and support for learning by Unisa as an institution of higher learning in combatting the social challenges faced by students".

The focus of her paper revolved around the support that Unisa offers to its students: whether orientation sessions are effective in preparing students for an open, distance and e-learning (ODeL) environment; whether students will cope with the technology-based learning and support that the university offers to students; whether there are systems in place to assist students to deal with social challenges, such as career guidance and counselling sessions; whether tutorial classes contribute to students’ success; whether Unisa measures impact of the above support systems / structures.

Motlanthe’s research paper won first place. She was declared the winner of the seventh Unisa Student Research and Innovation Showcase.

"This experience indicated to me that I was capable of doing so much more academically, inspired me to push boundaries, and for this reason I plan to do more research in the future, to enter into the research stream," she said.

Motlanthe went to the US as part of the Unisa International Exchange Programme, an opportunity reserved for winners of the Student Research and Innovation Showcase. The trip to the US enabled Motlanthe to mingle with her peers and learn from other established researchers.

"That achievement has shown me that I can defeat all odds standing against me. It made me realise the stream I should follow because now I enjoy research. In my years of study, I have never imagined myself sitting amongst academics of stature, respect, and influence. That, on its own, is what drives me to continue with my studies," she said.

The experience has contributed to Motlanthe’s increased motivation and how she views education. She said being among the winners of the Research and Innovation Competition is the first serious achievement for her, and she aspires to achieve more.

"This is the start of many accomplishments to come. I am already looking forward to next year’s Research and Innovation Challenge," she concluded.

Last year (2018), Motlanthe completed her BA in Communication and Psychology. She is currently registered for an Honours degree in Psychological Counselling.

* By Gilbert Mokwatedi, Manager: Communication and Marketing, North Eastern Region

Publish date: 2019/06/26