University of Cape Town (UCT) students may all have the “X factor” in some form or another but developing their “grit factor” – needed to cope with the demanding exam season and reaching
long-term academic goals – takes preparation and coaching. Thanks to a new initiative, the Grit Factor podcast series, they have strong support.
Introduced with the endorsement of Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Transformation, Student Affairs and Social Responsiveness Professor Elelwani Ramugondo, and the Academic Representative Council, this is a collaboration between Sean Abrahams and Frank Karigambe. Abrahams is Specialist: Learning & Innovation, and Karigambe is the coordinator of Governance and Programme Support (first tier), both in the Residence Life Division, which is part of UCT’s Department of Student Affairs.
They are leading the charge on a new positive psychology co-curricular approach to fostering grit. Karigambe will oversee the programme among the students and their peers, assisted by student coaches, residence tutors and mentors.
Passion and persistence combo
This pioneering initiative is Abrahams’ brainchild. His half-decade of research into grit in the South African higher education sector shows that cultivating grit (steel or backbone also describe this attribute) is essential for students to realise their long-term academic goals. This picks up on pioneering American psychologist Angela Duckworth’s research, which shows that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a combination of passion and persistence towards
long-term goals she calls “grit.”
“Grit, broadly defined as remaining focused, having stickability towards (long-term) goals, being consistent, and applying increased effort, forms the core of this collaboration’s mission,” said Abrahams.
“Grit is often misperceived as solely overcoming adversity, while its true essence lies in nurturing perseverance and passion for
“Grit is often misperceived as solely overcoming adversity, while its true essence lies in nurturing perseverance and passion for long-term goals, with sustained and repeated deliberate practice.”
Karigambe’s innovative thinking (he is the founder of the UCT-wide entrepreneurial competition The Pitch) found expression in his implementation of the “Grit Factor” podcast, which is being piloted. This is designed to facilitate conversations among residence students in the same year and degree. The podcasts will explore how they apply grit in their academic lives, fostering a supportive community.
The initiative has been built on student engagement. Virtual “Grit Factor” sessions are led by student peer positive psychology coaches, who have been trained and are supervised by Karigambe. The first session explores several ‘meta grit’ learning outcomes in a degree context. These include remaining focused; overcoming setbacks; sustaining interest in academic projects; committing more effort to studies; and setting and sticking to academic goals.
Throughout the sessions, facilitated discussions encourage students to share their experiences, strategies, and lessons they have learnt. Karigambe trains peer coaches to guide students on the ways and methods they can use to sustain long-term interest in their academic projects and commit more effort to their studies. The goal setting and accountability process is also explored.
“Taking small steps towards developing grit can lead to significant improvements in academic success.”
At the end of the sessions, students commit to specific actions to foster grit in their academic journeys.
“Taking small steps towards developing grit can lead to significant improvements in academic success,” said Karigambe.
The “Grit Factor” sessions are transcribed and recorded for participants and their classmates to access later, providing valuable resources for ongoing support.
Karigambe said, “The ‘Grit Factor’ podcast pilot has been a tremendous success, and we are excited to expand its reach through these interactive sessions. The peer coaches are outstanding and are proven to cultivate a supportive community of students engaging in these conversations.”
Space to engage
Student responses to the pilot podcast series have been equally positive.
Sphiwo Kunene, a BBusSc Finance and Accounting student, is coaching the residence councils.
“Hosting ‘Grit Factor’ sessions has been a fulfilling experience. The nuances of the topic provided great opportunity to explore it in a way that brings together the unique experiences of different people. The end of each session gave us a fresh perspective on working on our
long-term goals, which is something that will be of great benefit for our academic and career journeys.”
Sandile Phakathi, a fifth-year MBChB student who is coaching the Residence Transformation Council, – said “The ‘Grit Factor’ sessions gave me an opportunity to engage with different [academic] classes”.
“It was a space to engage on what was driving individuals to succeed. In the end, there was a consensus that for long-term goals, successful people are those who put in an effort, day in and day out.”
Sinethemba Khumalo, a third-year law student and coach for the Residence Mentor Council, said “I am so grateful for the opportunity to host the ‘Grit Factor’ sessions. It was an incredibly enriching experience”.
“It’s so important to have a space where students can come together to share and discuss what they have learnt from their academic journeys and how they grew from their challenges. Working with students who were so motivated to find ways to better their academic journey was highly motivating, and I learnt so much from their stories and experiences."
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