NAPP retreat was no sleepy affair

23 February 2017 | Story by Newsroom
The January NAPP retreat group.
The January NAPP retreat group.

A three-day January retreat for scholars on UCT's New Academic Practitioners' Programme (NAPP) paved the way for the young academics to “find their voice” and hone their teaching skills in a transforming university space, said NAPP convenor Dr Kasturi Behari-Leak.

The combination of small-group teaching, difficult conversations about transformation and “decoloniality” and well-received guest talks embodied NAPP's new way of working. They are trying to personify the drive to create spaces for participants to think through such difficult issues, as they impact on burgeoning academic careers.

“For example, we've been talking about self-esteem and confidence and finding your voice; not just being a pawn, and you come in [as a young academic] and you don't know what to do,” said Behari-Leak.

The retreat's keynote speaker was Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, UCT's Deputy Vice-Chancellor for research and internationalisation. It wouldn't be exaggeration to say that the DVC was a hit.

“The photographs afterwards, selfies, trying to sit around her at lunch … You're looking at a groupie situation,” Behari-Leak grinned.

But Phakeng did more than have the participants eating out of her hand, said Behari-Leak. She embodied the self-esteem, self-confidence and ability to get through to participants on a mutually comfortable platform that NAPP has been trying to inculcate in its members. Flicking seamlessly between academic language and colloquial dialects, Phakeng had the participants thinking: “I can do this. She is one of us.”

'Phakeng was the highlight'

This demonstration of language's power to persuade fell into sharp relief on day two of the retreat, when Dr Ermien van Pletzen and her colleagues in the language development sphere explained how to get participants to understand content material by breaking down the language and making it more accessible.

Tando Ntunja, who teaches at UCT's Centre for Film and Media Studies, spoke glowingly about the NAPP retreat. Ntunja joined UCT recently after eight years in the media industry, and admitted that being a full-time teacher and researcher was completely new and a challenge she had been working towards for a number of years.

“As someone that is genuinely curious about a number of things – a journalist never stops learning – I loved having the opportunity to learn about the research of and network with colleagues from various disciplines represented throughout UCT,” she said.

Ntunja was enamoured with Phakeng's address.

“Her appointment – and certainly mine as a full-time lecturer – is indicative of the positive strides UCT is starting to make to address transformation,” she said. “It isn't true that there are 'no' advanced black South African graduates. The corporate media sector that I've recently left is crawling with disgruntled master's graduates.

“These skills need to be attracted and accommodated at UCT because I'd imagine that it is encouraging for most of our participants to learn with people who look like they mostly do: black, young and socio-culturally connected to some aspects of their lived experience.”

Patrick Adams, a NAPP participant, enjoyed engaging with his peers at the retreat.

“The highlight of the programme was the talk by Professor Phakeng, whom I found, as a fellow mathematician, an inspiration and a sublime role model for me who is just now starting out in mathematics,” said Adams.

Story Yusuf Omar. Photo Supplied.

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