Each year Stellenbosch University utilises approximately 600 trained mentors and head mentors to guide between 4000 and 5000 first-year students (called mentees) during their first six to nine months at the university. The mentors are senior students who undergo intensive training over a couple of days. The mentees are first-year students and are part of 500 to 600 mentoring groups. They stay in more than 40 residences and private wards on either the main campus in Stellenbosch or on the Tygerberg campus. The team of mentors and head mentors are supported by a team of university staff members, including residence heads, cluster coordinators and staff members from Student Affairs. A huge team of more than 600 people is part of this very unique and huge effort - most probably one of the largest out-of-the-class first-year interventions in the world! Since its inception in 2013 more than 3300 mentors and head mentors have assisted more than 23 000 first-year students in the programme.
Stellenbosch University has a very long and proud history of mentoring, dating back more than forty years. Traditionally (before 2013) the objectives were, broadly speaking, to help first-year students to adjust to university life, to overcome personal barriers (by referring them to professional staff) and to provide general psycho-social support – mainly a deficit or problem-focused approach that assisted the needy but did not have real meaning to the rest who were "sort of okay". In 2013 the university changed its approach to a developmental approach that still catered for adjustment and problem-solving, but also focused on the optimisation of the potential of all students in the system, including both the mentees and mentors - a more holistic and systemic approach that concentrates on developing the whole person instead of only addressing problem areas. The wellness model of Hettler was chosen as the vehicle to accomplish this. This developmental approach to student success is quite unique in the world, especially because it is done on such a big scale, and outside of the main curriculum. At Stellenbosch this project is known as BeWell.
Stellenbosch University adopted a wellness model that looks at wellness in terms of the physical, emotional, intellectual, occupational, social and spiritual dimensions. Research findings from around the world confirm that the following are good reasons why this wellness approach is a good idea:
Overall Stellenbosch University's wellness approach has the aim of creating a “flourishing” campus culture. Because Stellenbosch University is now (2019) in its seventh year of implementing this approach it means that the majority of her undergraduate student population now had some kind of exposure to it - a world's first, and a good start in building a flourishing culture.
Six wellness cards, one for each of the wellness dimensions, were designed during 2012. These cards are meant to be used by mentors during their mentoring sessions with their mentoring groups. The cards contain definitions of wellness and some guiding questions and activities to help mentors guide their mentees in discussions about the various aspects of wellness and to help them coach their mentees (and themselves!) to adopt a lifestyle that promotes health, happiness, well-being and academic success. Click here to see the cards.
Mentors still had to conduct the traditional sessions (pre-2013) during the welcoming period, as well as individual sessions (general psycho-social support) during the course of the year. They, however, now had a set of cards (a tool) to guide their mentees during an additional 6 to 10 one hour sessions to facilitate growth and positive discussions. The focus changed from a deficit-approach pre-2013 to a wellness and developmental approach since 2013.
Click here to view a video of a typical first wellness-based mentoring session and here to see how a subsequent session typically gets conducted.
An outstanding and very unique feature of the Stellenbosch approach is the personalisation of each student's wellness development: All mentors and mentees are supported by their own individualized and secure wellness websites with tools for self-development, tracking tools for card sessions, journals, profile pages and personalised leaderboards - the system is gamified.
All BeWell activities are tracked and both mentors and mentees record details about their sessions and other interactions online, mostly via their cell phones or tablets.