Change the world

News

23/11/2018

“Twelve years ago I started challenging my students to give of their time and come up with an action plan that would help to change our part of the world for the better.” Director of the School of Industrial Psychology and Human Resources, Professor Michelle Mey, emphasises the importance of engagement-focused higher education and research in the School, in line with Nelson Mandela University’s vision. 

She refers to a quote from Vice-Chancellor Professor Sibongile Muthwa’s inaugural address on 17 April 2018: “We need to redefine the purpose of engagement, and reposition engagement with communities to make a meaningful contribution to overcoming societal challenges. This is particularly important as we bear a special responsibility associated with the name Nelson Mandela to align our intellectual resources to the historic task of creating a non-racial, equal and democratic society”.

Prof Mey offers the example of the second year students in the Department of Human Resource Management who are the “owners” of the Pay-it-Forward community engagement initiative. For Pay-it-Forward, the students identify community organisations that they believe can best benefit from engagement, with an emphasis on education and care.

“The concept of the Pay-it-Forward initiative was triggered about 10 years ago when my friend’s brother immigrated to Australia,” Prof Mey explains. “Soon after he started his new job there he developed a cancerous growth in his throat and was unable to work while receiving treatment, which left his family in a very difficult position. Despite the fact that he was so new, everyone in the company got together and sold a day’s leave to the company in order to raise money to assist his family over the Christmas period.”

Prof Mey had already been thinking about a Pay-it-Forward engagement initiative, based on the book and movie of the same name, and the care of the Australians for a stranger from another continent consolidated it for her. “Twelve years ago I started challenging my students to give of their time and come up with an action plan that would help to change our part of the world for the better. At the outset it was an informal initiative but it has grown to the extent that I have handed it over to the second years as their own. It is not an add-on, it is part of the curriculum and inherent to the development of students as engaged, socially conscious humans who make a meaningful contribution to overcoming societal challenges.”

In 2017 these students spent time with children at homes and schools, teaching them new games, assisting with homework, tutoring and helping them with artwork. Some of the organisations with whom they have worked include the Jerusalem Home, Ubomi Obutsha Community Centre, Ithemba Day Care Centre, Protea Primary School, and Human Dignity Centre, EP Child & Youth Care Centre, MTR Smit Children’s Home and Care Haven Psychiatric Centre. Students reflect on how these projects instil in them a sense of humility, compassion and gratitude, and that it inspires them to play their part in addressing some of our society’s acute socio-economic and educational problems.

Other initiatives include graduates donating their text books to lighten the financial burden for undergraduate students, and graduates hosting career days at high schools to create awareness of Nelson Mandela University study options, entry requirements and    funding    opportunities. “High school learners are our future students, graduates and postgraduates, and it is critical that we engage them, as many do not have access to the information and requirements for university,” says Prof Mey.

In  2017,   in   partnership   with  the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology of South Africa (SIOPSA), a four-hour workshop was hosted for a group of 60 Grade 11  and  12  learners at Thamsanqa High School in Kwazakhele, Nelson Mandela Bay Metro. Many of the learners said   it had inspired them to pursue higher education studies and they asked questions about the steps they should take. The School also takes part in Schools’ annual career expos where they offer information on career paths and university admission requirements.

Prof Mey explains that this and other engagement initiatives in   the School and faculty are in line with Nelson Mandela University’s desired graduate attributes, which include a  commitment  to  social awareness and responsible citizenship, as well as an acknowledgment of and respect for constitutional principles and values such as equity, humanity, diversity and social justice.

Contact information
Prof Michelle Mey
Director of School of Industrial Psychology and Human Resources
Tel: 041 5043824
Michelle.mey@mandela.ac.za