After a successful pilot programme, the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment (EBE) will launch a faculty-wide, semester-long positive psychology programme for their students, with the aim of building resilience and supporting academic success.
The transformative initiative will be launched in conjunction with the Department of Student Affairs (DSA) and Residence Academic Development Committee following a five-week pilot programme, “Character Strengths Top 5”, involving 125 EBE students during the first semester this year.
Each participating student identified their top five character strengths and learned how these could be developed to achieve their academic achievement goals and success.
The development continues the DSA’s positive psychology interventions and marks another milestone in the continued collaboration between Dr Anita Campbell, a senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics; and Sean Abrahams, DSA PhD candidate and Residence Life Specialist for Learning and Innovation.
Dr Campbell is a member of the International Positive Psychology Association, the South African Society for Engineering Education, and the Association for Mathematics Education of South Africa. For five years, Abrahams was also an active member of the International Positive Psychology Association, serving as the regional representative for the Positive Education Division on the African Continent.
The project, “Character Strengths Program Empowering Engineering Students for Academic Success”, was based on the Values in Action (VIA) Institute Character Strengths Model. This is comprised of 24 character strengths, which are categorised according to six virtues.
Evidence shows that individuals have all 24 character strengths in different degrees, giving each person a unique character strengths profile. Character strengths are described as “the positive parts of your personality that impact how you think, feel and behave”.
The pilot project impact was assessed according to a rigorous evaluation and the results were “overwhelmingly positive”, said Abrahams.
The results showed that 90.9% of students strongly agreed that the course had increased their awareness of their character strengths.
“A significant majority of participants reported increased self-awareness of their character strengths, reflecting the programme’s effectiveness in fostering personal growth and positive shifts in mindset.”
“The programme exemplifies our commitment to student empowerment.”
In the qualitative analysis, students spoke about how their character strengths could be applied in various situations. They highlighted examples of using humour and humility to ease tension and build relationships.
“I have been able to put people at ease with my ease and throwing in jokes time and time again to make them relaxed,” said one participant.
Another said, “Some of the strengths that I have, I didn’t know they play a huge role in the way I see life and when it comes to decision making.”
A third noted, “The evening affirmations created a positive and calming atmosphere, allowing me to unwind and reflect on the positive aspects of my day, leading to enhanced mental well-being.”
Campbell said extensive research and insights had gone into the programme’s development as a means of cultivating a growth mindset among students.
Abrahams added: “The programme exemplifies our commitment to student empowerment and empirically informed positive psychology interventions.”
He said that EBE and the DSA would further refine and expand the programme in the future.
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