SUNConferences, SAIIE NeXXXt

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Establishing learning communities through offering mentoring support to female engineering students
Ann S Lourens, Ronelle C Plaatjes, Ruth E Connelly

Last modified: 2019-08-28

Abstract


South Africa faces a shortage of engineering skills and particularly a shortage of female engineers. Often students entering engineering programmes do so from positions of inequality in terms of schooling, finances, and other resources. Along with these challenges, academia is also grappling with calls for decolonisation of the curriculum and humanising the pedagogy while developing interventions to support, develop and retain engineering students. As a result, a Women Engineering Leadership Association (WELA) was established at a South African university and strategies and interventions were developed to support female engineering students and practicing engineers. The activities and co-curricular interventions characterising WELA as a learning community. The aim of this research is to investigate the potential benefits of establishing learning communities to assist in the development and retention of students within the context of the challenges facing South African universities currently. Accordingly, this research discusses the characteristics and benefits of developing learning communities and reports on data obtained from a survey conducted with student mentors who were members of WELA. The results of the survey indicated that learning communities could lead to more motivated students; increased life-skills, greater social tolerance and appreciation of diversity and, finally, increased personal and interpersonal growth. In addition, increased academic effort and a greater sense of self-efficacy was reported. It is proposed that the establishment of a learning community can benefit students from all disciplines in the institutional quest to support, develop, and retain both male and female engineering students.

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