Yesterday, I had the amazing opportunity to talk to incoming students to the University of Witwatersrang in  Johannesburg about mechanical engineering.  The academic development staff at Wits noticed that first year students had a poor understanding of which discipline within engineering is best for them, so hopefully this weekend of talks gave them some clarity!

It was a strage and exciting experience to be on the other side of the lecture room – staring up at the venue filled with bright-eyes young people, ready to take a dive into their degrees. I was struck at the sincerity and commitment I saw in that room, the eagerness to perform and the honesty of their questions. I loved it.  I know one day I will go into lecturing and first-year engineering students are just about the most enjoyable and rewarding group to teach.

I couldn’t help thinking how young they were. I don’t see myself as ‘old’, and sometimes forget that first-year for me was actually 6 years ago. This was a scary thought, but it really crystallized a feeling of accomplishment- of how far I’d come since then. It really took me back to my days as a ‘fresher’ at UCT. I was in awe of the place, set against the gorgeous Cape Town mountains and warm in the late-summer. I was such a nervous, slightly geeky and socially awkward girl – in my all-stars and golf shirts, tripping along the cobblestones of University Plaza and trying to get to my lectures in time. It makes me smile to think of my eighteen-year-old self now and that group of people who I became so inevitably close to over the years.

Sharing notes, copying homework, signing them in for missed tuts (or pleading that did the same for you), deciphering lecturer accents, sitting at the back of class and trying not to giggle, doodling characatures of my least favourite lecturers and secret crushes. Spending all night in the computer labs before a major CAD assignment, stressing about a test and someone explaining a key concept to you seconds before going into the test-venue (and passing). Pleading DP and study groups, relaxing in one of the many hidden gardens during a ‘free period’, “Sooper Sandwich” and chinese noodle (which I never ate) and being at that cafe in Lesie Social Science at 10:00am sharp to get fresh cheese criossants hot out the oven before they all get eaten! Menzies building and Snape’s drawing office that always smelled of dusty old men. Tentatively venturing into the forbidden staff room to find lecturers and becoming so nervous around cute tutors that you end up making a complete fool out of yourself!

Ah! These kids don’t know what they’re in for. All I know is its going to be a wonderful, crazy and difficult road, but worth every hour, every tear, every night in when my BusSci friends went out partying…Its rewarding, its something to be proud of, its an accomplishment many cant have. I looked out at that classroom of high-acheivers, and knew that some sitting among them were going to be the future leaders of this country, people with the responsibility and influence one day, to shape our society and incite change, and I was inspired. I was proud to be asked to speak to them, to inspire them, to give them a glimpse of the future that was entirely up to them.