Amanda Morris: an extra(ordinary) academic in ECP who is ‘creating a space in the world for the student to flourish’

In our second installment of the (extra)ordinary academic in ECP series, we profile Amanda Morris, currently a lecturer in the Design Foundation and previously ECP coordinator for the Graphic Design Foundation. Recently we caught up with Amanda and learnt more about her deep passion for design education, love for teaching and commitment to improving the learning experiences of all students who step over the threshold of her classroom door.

Amanda is a true example of the institution growing its own timber. She completed her Graphic Design diploma at Peninsula Technikon, one of the pre-merger institutions that became CPUT in 2005. Her passion for teaching developed early, when after just a year in industry she decided to quit her job, pursue her BTech degree and jumped into the world of education. She was so enthusiastic to join the ranks that she initially worked ‘for free’ – doing observations and acting as a teaching assistant in the Graphic Design classrooms at Pentech. She then started teaching part-time on a certificate course which was to become the pre-cursor to the ECP in the department. She then went on to join the lecturing team in the Foundation Year on the Bellville campus. Between 2014 – 2017 Amanda took on the role of ECP coordinator in Graphic Design and in 2018 the new joint Design Foundation was implemented on the Cape Town campus.

It is no surprise, given Amanda’s interest in design education, that her MTech degree focused on this topic and specifically the learning preferences of students and how multimodality shaped the teaching and learning setting. Amanda finds that the start of each new year, with its new cohort of students brings a flood of possibilities, excitement and enjoyment; as she is able to share in her students’ experiences of exploring the field of design – a field which without ECP they might not otherwise have had access to. She sees her role as primarily linked to helping students find their sense of identity in  finding out what it is like to be a designer. But this does not diminish the continued frustrations she has that the ECP project is still misunderstood in the wider departmental and institutional community. Or the lack of follow-through and uptake of ECP pedagogies, principles and work ethic into the mainstream. All too often ECP resources are still not fully utilized to accord the all-important access and there isn’t always clarity about what the ECP learning experience should be like for students.

A lot more could also be done to appropriately assist ECP academics to fully realise the role, principles and ethos of the project – with Amanda asserting that a distinction must be drawn between students either being ‘underprepared’ for university study or ‘unsure’ about their chose of study. She insists ECP should not be treated as a ‘waiting room’. She also believes that the next frontier for ECP should be around creating meaningful access and support for students with disabilities. Hard questions also need to be asked about the extent of support (academic and others) that the ECP can or cannot provide.

Amanda’s social justice principles associated with her ECP location, easily crosses-over to her after hours’ activities, where in addition to being an active mother of three young children, she is involved in community and fellowship work on the Cape Flats. She also finds time to feed her graphic designer-self and frequently undertakes part-time design work.

New Dean of Students appointed

The new Dean of Students says her passion for student affairs led her to CPUT.

Prem Coopoo, a seasoned student developer with a master’s degree in social work, joined CPUT last month.

She intends to develop a holistic student development plan and that starts with coming up with a framework that will guide each of the departments reporting to her on what is expected of them.

“Everyone needs to know that we need to be student-centred and contribute to student success and not hinder it. Each one should ask themselves ‘are we promoting student success or are we hindering it?’ ”

CPUT is a good institution which is robust with strong union involvement,” says Coopoo who has previously held the position of Dean of Students at both Wits and the North West University in the last 14 years.

During her reign CPUT students can expect a supportive and responsive environment which is proactive rather than reactive.

“They can also expect strict adherence to the university’s rules because we need to assist them with acquiring certain soft skills and if we don’t enforce compliance to our rules we won’t be helping them develop the right skills not only for the world of work but also life in general.”

She adds that students will have an opportunity to become the good citizens of the world. “We will provide the programmes but the responsibility lies with the students to grab the opportunity to grow and develop, so they can expect a positive student experience throughout their career at CPUT and beyond.”

She says that the university would like for its graduates to return for postgraduate studies or be involved in university life as alumni.

The dean is interested in creating “high performing residences”. These should be places of learning where students have a 100% chance of excelling academically and personally, where no violation of any residence rule will be tolerated.

“CPUT must encourage student activism through affiliation with clubs, organisations and student societies with very clear outcomes.”

Staak conquers Athens Marathon

It was a question of mind over matter when Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic, Prof Anthony Staak, joined thousands of runners from across the world to take on the Athens Marathon.

Staak and his wife Wendy recently conquered the historic marathon, known as The Authentic, and said it proved to be one of their toughest marathons yet.

“But it was well worth the effort. Nothing could beat the finish in the iconic 77 000 seat marble stadium where the race officially ended. Both my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the crowd support almost every step of the way, with shouts of ‘bravo, bravo’ to urge you on, the strong international representation and camaraderie that went with it, it was just great being part of this tradition.”

Staak has been involved in athletics and various sporting activities since his early school years. He took up distance running seriously in 1994 when he and his wife ran the Boston Marathon and New Orleans Marathon while he was studying abroad.

He’s lost count of how many marathons he has run but believes it to be close on 30 standard marathons. Staak has also completed 13 Two Oceans Ultra Marathons and one Comrades Marathon.

His favourite, “without doubt” is the Two Oceans Marathon.

“That is why I did it 13 times! It is promoted as the most beautiful marathon in the world. I can attest to that.”

Staak said he decided to participate in the Athens Marathon because of the strong tradition and history associated it.

It is known as the “Authentic marathon” because this is where marathon running has its historical roots. In around 500 BC a Greek soldier ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory of the Greek army over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. The distance was exactly 41,195 km. The standard marathon distance remains 42,2km to this day.”

The race proved to be a challenge and Staak said there was a steady climb from 18km to 32km to an elevation of about 350m.

“I can’t recall any other marathon having such a long steady climb. Legend has it that the Greek soldier died from exhaustion after delivering the victory message!”

Asked about his main takeaway from the experience Staak replied: “Any goal can be achieved with hard work, discipline and commitment. During the race it was certainly ‘mind over matter’.”

Farewell founding fathers

The Engineering Faculty said goodbye to six staff members this year, some of whom were described as founding fathers of the faculty.

Hosting a lunch for the retirees, acting Dean of Engineering Prof Mellet Moll spoke warmly about his colleagues, praising not only their work ethic and research capacity but also their ability to bring humanity to their teaching process.

“In academia we see how people reach their prime at an advanced point in their career,” said Moll, pointing out that CPUT loses almost 150 years of experience in one go.

While retiring head of the Chemical Engineering Department Prof Daniel Ikhu-Omoregbe has only been at CPUT for ten years, Moll pointed out the department has under his leadership become the biggest contributor to research papers in the faculty despite having no research centres.

Ikhu-Omoregbe said he is glad to have achieved one of the goals he set himself over the past decade which was to leave a visible presence of Chemical Engineering at CPUT in the form of the new building on the Bellville campus.

Moll described Prof Rainer Haldenwang, retired head of the Flow Process and Rheology Centre, as a calming influence who over the years became one of the world’s leading authorities in the field of rheology.

Director of the Centre for Mechanics and Technology and a recipient of the Alexander von Humboldt Scholarship, Prof Bohua Sun, said one of the best parts of having worked at CPUT since 1995 was the freedom to study what he wanted to explore. Sun most recently published a paper exploring the three-body problem from the perspective of dimensional analysis in academic journal Science China Physics, Mechanics & Astronomy.

Head of Programme: Surveying, Jacobus Raubenheimer, who collected a Long Service Award for 40 years at CPUT earlier this year, said being part of the development of education in the engineering field was just one of the many positive features of his career: “Your colleagues are a highlight because they make your life easier,” said Raubenheim.

Prof Alvin Lagardien, founder of the Centre for Water Supply and Sanitation Research, was unable to attend the farewell lunch but was fondly mentioned by all attendees. Head of the Civil Engineering & Surveying Department Aashadia Kamalie, mentioned how proud the entire faculty was of Lagardien’s work in the field of water sanitation: “He has been key in the relationship building between CPUT and other institutions,” said Kamalie.

Also honoured at the retirement lunch was Prof Anthony Staak. While Staak is Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning he noted that his heart will always be in engineering.

“When I think of the university’s vision to be at the heart of technology education and innovation in Africa, for me that’s engineering at CPUT. I was fortunate to also study at MIT and 50% of their students are engineers. I would like the day to come when 50% of the students here are engineers,” said Staak.


Written by Theresa Smith

Simulating reality to skill future nurses

The Nursing Science Department is staying ahead of the curve in terms of training staff in the latest treatments and technologies.

Students are already reaping the rewards after lecturer Suveena Singh recently attended a simulation course at the University of the Free State.

The department’s Clinical Skills Laboratory also recently received a multi-million rand upgrade.

Singh said participants ran several simulation scenarios during the course.

Among other things her group ran a simulation with a manikin that simulated a five-year-old having an allergic reaction to Penicillin.

Another focus area was on learning how to do moulage.

“This is the art of applying mock injuries for training purposes. I practiced a few of the techniques on myself and I got quite a few stares as I went out in public. Since coming back I used subtle moulage for the practical exams of the students. The course was a great learning experience but more than that I got to meet attendees from different parts of South Africa & Africa. We have now become a simulation family,” said Singh.

CPUT’s green efforts awarded

CPUT’s efforts to green its campuses was awarded during the 7th Annual Green Campus Initiative (GCI) Conference.

The conference was organised by the Association of College and University Housing Officers International (Acuho-i) and was held at UKZN.

CPUT was awarded the Green Award – Diamond for the Most Innovative University.

The SARETEC building and the composition of its materials as well as CPUT’s utilisation of unwanted plastics and recycled materials to establish various useful tools impressed the delegation.

A total of 12 institutions attended the event and the theme of the four-day conference was Land and Marine pollution.

“We are very proud of this award as it recognises our innovative efforts to green our campuses. We hope to build on these efforts in future and establish CPUT as a leader in such projects in South Africa and Africa at large,” said Phillip Chibvuri from CPUT’s Residence Business Unit.

Tech-ing it up a notch

Staff members and students can look forward to enjoying the benefits of a recent major network upgrade when they return in the new academic year.

CTS Network Manager Sam Bimray said all buildings were being linked to the IT centre and Admin centre with new fibre cables, which will increase the speed and result in a major improvement in the performance of the network.

“We are also installing new equipment in different areas to take full advantage of the new fibre installation.”

He said two projects, the wired project on the Bellville campus and wireless project across all campuses, were running concurrently.

“We are trying to make our network as accessible as possible all over the campuses. We want to ensure that every building that we have has full coverage of Wi-Fi. This has been our biggest challenge. Five years ago it was one person per device but now we find that every person has two or three devices. This has required lots of upgrades, switches to more wireless routers and a new server to help us manage the increase of users.”

The department’s Joshua Blanchard said residences were one of the key focus areas: “With the help of external companies we walked through residences with a tool to check the reach of wireless coverage. We’ve looked at what we can do to get signal in the areas that are not reached.”

Bimray said a PABX Software (telephone system) upgrade was also conducted which will enable the use of Skype for business and improve voice quality on the network.

Future projects will include upgrading all the old cabling infrastructure.

Hello brave new world

The Design building on the Bellville campus has a new Communication and Language Centre.

Situated on the first floor of the building, the Language Centre contains 30 computers equipped with language programmes, several language book resources and tutors on hand to help with computer and language needs.

Opened earlier this year with the help of the Financial Aid Office who sponsored three lab assistants and two tutors, the Language Centre has been offering help to Applied Sciences students for several months.

Applied Sciences Faculty Language Co-ordinator Dr Ignatius Ticha said students signed in 3180 times to use the lab, “so we have already achieved maximum usage of space,” said Ticha. The lab has been used for staff meetings, a reading quiz, training workshops and classes on two of the computer programmes aimed at improving students’ reading skills. Postgraduate students affiliated to Applied Sciences also asked for help on proposal and thesis writing.

Most of the students used the space to complete assignments or do research. The main function of the Language Centre is to provide language related services in a multilingual context. Posters about sign language dominate the walls and resource books touch on several South African and African languages.

Feedback from students who accessed the Readers are Leaders and Read and Write computer programmes is encouraging and Ticha says they will extend access to both programmes to the District Six campus during 2020.

Read and Write is a literacy support tool that works across platforms and audience members watching a demonstration of the programme were impressed by its potential use by special needs students.

The main function of the Readers are Leaders programme is to develop students’ reading speed and comprehension to the level necessary to cope with university material.

“It will grow into something useful for our faculty,” said Ticha proudly before Prof Joseph Kioko, Assistant Dean of the Faculty of Applied Sciences, declared the Language Centre open.

Kioko reminded attendees that language is not just a neutral collection of words, they have meaning. “This laboratory is about skills. The world we live in now is different to the world we learn in. Things have changed and with that the ways the students must learn. This Centre has skills and resources that will allow lecturers to teach the students to survive in this new world,” said Kioko.

Written by Theresa Smith

Stitching together career development

The Technology Station: Clothing and Textiles recently celebrated their most recent crop of short course graduates.

Acting Dean of the Engineering Faculty, Prof Mellet Moll, was on hand to award certificates to the nine learners who successfully completed four short learning programmes.

Technology Station: Clothing and Textiles (TSCT) Manager Shamil Isaacs said it was important to recognise the achievements of the industry based learners who sacrificed their free time on Saturdays to attend classes.

“Also, to appreciate the support of participating host companies Pep, Seagull Industries, K-way and Sweet Orr and acknowledge the supporting stakeholders and funders who are the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing SETA, the Technology Innovation Agency and CPUT as the host institution,” said Isaacs.

The learners completed Introduction to Pattern and Garment Technology; Textiles and Fabrics; Computer Pattern Making; and Product and Labour Costing.

The TSCT has a menu of 18 registered short courses on its brochure, focusing on areas such as Pre-Production Technology or Textiles. About 12 of these run on a regular basis, dependent on demand in any given year. The TSCT also offers customisable programmes based on consultation with businesses as part of a company’s internal staff development programme.

The short course brochure and application form for 2019 are now available on the CPUT website.

Isaacs pointed out a key driver of the TSCT is to support small business and emerging techno-entrepreneurs with a particular emphasis on previous disadvantaged persons.

One of the learners who collected her certificate of completion is Jackie Bezuidenhout. Manufacturing Technologist for Pepkor Clothing, she considered doing the short courses worth her time. “We learnt a lot and I would recommend doing these short courses to my colleagues,” said Bezuidenhout.

Written by Theresa Smith

Paralegal studies degree hailed

The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation lauded CPUT’s Bachelor of Paralegal Studies degree, as significant for the professionalisation of the paralegal field.

CPUT is the only institution in the country which offers this degree.

The foundation recently visited the Unit for Applied Law to learn more about the new degree programme and interacted with lecturers and students.

Lorenzo Wakefield, Programme Officer at the Foundation, says: “We’re looking at how best we can support the accessibility and inclusivity of community-based paralegals into the Bachelor of Paralegal Studies and we are having good discussions with the Unit for Applied Law.”

Wakefield added:  “Injustices happen to the people and they don’t know how to get justice, the formal legal fraternity is inaccessible,” he says. “We’re looking at how we can assist them with their research activities and support them to gain the most from the degree.”

This was a site visit by the global coordinator to gain insight into the activities of the Unit for Applied Law which the South African office proposes to fund, says the Unit’s Head, Adv. Noleen Leach.

Leach says the Unit has a Memorandum of Understanding with CAOSA (merged institutions of the National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Offices) and the Association of Community Advice Offices of South Africa.

“The Mott Foundation is one of the funders of Community Advice Offices in the country.  Most paralegals in practice in the advice offices do not meet the prescribed admissions criteria for the Bachelor of Paralegal Studies programme and CPUT has terminated the age exemption option for access,” she says.

She adds that the foundation extended an invitation to the Unit to apply for funding for research that will inform the Recognition of Prior Learning instrument to be designed for access to the Bachelor of Paralegal Studies by community-based paralegals.  “They will be working in collaboration with the Open Society Foundation to ensure that especially community-based paralegals gain access to the programme.”

She argues that the need for paralegals have become critical in the light of the recent announcement by the South African government that it intends to cut legal aid by R500 million over the next three years.  “Cheaper legal services is an imperative if we are to ensure that the marginalised and the poor gain access to justice,” she concludes.