Good to great: UWC welcomes new Mellon Mays cohort
The University of the Western Cape (UWC) welcomed a new cohort of students into its Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) Programme at a celebratory get-together at the Life Sciences Building on Friday 3 May 2013.
The 2013 MMUF cohort consists of five exceptional final year undergraduate students: Mapula Motana (Mathematics), Maphelo Batyi (Political Studies), Mandihlume Dotwana (Sociology), Janine Harry (English) and Malebogo Thabong (French). MMUF mentors, Fellows from previous cohorts, and family and friends of the 2013 cohort gathered to welcome the new Fellows, introduce them to the benefits and duties of the Fellowship,and wish them well as they prepare to leave for four weeks at Emory University in Atlanta, USA for the UNCF/Mellon Summer Institute.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic Prof Ramesh Bharuthram provided a bit of background on the MMUF Programme, explored UWC's involvement in the programme, and explained how students came to be selected for this honour. In January each year, the top third year students are identified in the sciences, social sciences and humanities that fit two criteria: one is excellence, and the other is that they are from a disadvantaged section of the population. Those students are asked to write an essay, and analysis of the essays leads to about 15 of them being short-listed. After a series of interviews, 5 students are finally selected to participate in the MMUF programme.
“This is a special moment in your life,” he told the new cohort of Fellows. “As you go through your preparations at UWC, keep in mind that you are among the brightest and most promising. Congratulations, and welcome.”
Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Brian O'Connell also welcomed the 2013 cohort,
“Professor Bharuthram has told you that this is about the Mellon Mays programme, and it is – but it's also much, much more than that. This is about the prospects of our country and our continent finding a way to understand the world, and the changes in the world, and how we must respond to those changes if we are to flourish. And it's about the agents who must carry these messages out into the world – messages about life in South Africa, social changes, environmental changes – and direct us to think and act in certain ways. You've accepted your responsibility and shone. Thank you for being who you are. It gives us hope for this country. God bless.”
Executive Assistant in the DVC: Academic’s Office Dr Vanessa Brown (who Prof Bharuthram describes as “in some ways the mother of the Mellon Mays programme”) added her welcome and explained how the new cohort would benefit from their involvement. MMUF Fellowships span two years – the final year of the undergraduate degree (the year of the cohort) and the Honours year (provided first year performance was satisfactory). Fellows receive financial and development support, including a term time stipend, travel costs to USA for the Summer Institute during the first year of Fellowship and a research allowance. Fellows are encouraged to attend research conferences and can even publish research as undergraduates in the MMUF Undergraduate Fellowship journal, a Harvard University publication. They also receive access to peer-to-peer networks (including the newly launched Mellon Mays Professional Foundation) and are attached to a Faculty mentor who can contribute to the students' personal development and sense of academic mission.
“With great privilege comes great responsibilities,” said Dr Brown. “I hope to see the students in this room in a few short years when they are registered for their PhDs.”
Senior MMUF Fellow and postgraduate student Mario Meyer (2009 cohort) described how Fellowship had changed his life. “I graduated high school as a very unambitious, socially unaware individual,” he said, “but I've since become an ambitious achiever, with aspirations of making a significant contribution – and Mellon Mays has played a significant role in that.” Since 2009, Mario has been awarded several bursaries, including the prestigious Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, and has visited the US and the UK on development programmes (he was to leave for another in Washington, DC in June).
Mario shared a few words of wisdom gathered from his own MMUF journey: “Mellon Mays is where it all started for me; it gave me the exposure I needed and showed me that I could achieve, and that I could compete. So to the 2013 cohort, you're about to embark on a journey that you can't fully appreciate yet – but as you move forward, keep in mind that the possibilities are endless, and that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to achieve.”