‘Your picture of your foreground will take you where you want to be’

Posted on August 16, 2019

In the fifth interview of our #WomenofUP series for Women’s Month, we profile Professor Ana Naidoo, Deputy Director: Academic Development of Students in the Department for Education Innovation. She is involved in student success, driving the orientation programme and the Finish Line is Yours (FLY) Campaign to enable students to graduate on time.

Tell us about yourself and your qualifications

I hold a PhD in Mathematics Education from Aalborg University in Denmark.

My career began as a mathematics teacher and then a teacher educator. From 1999 to 2009 I was at the Nelson Mandela University, first as a Head of Department and then as the Dean of the Faculty of Education. I began at UP as the Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Education in 2009. Then in 2013 I moved to the Department for Education Innovation as the Deputy Director responsible for Academic Development of Students.

I am also a wife, a mother and the proud grandmother of three lovely girls. I was brought up in a single parent home.

What exactly do you do at UP?

My portfolio expanded over the years and now includes professional development of staff, oversight of the Faculty Student Advisors (FSA) in each faculty together with the Deputy Deans and the management of externally funded programmes such as those of the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation (Dell Young Leaders and the Sikelela Programs) and the Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme.

Working with the FSAs, the focus has broadened to student success across the University. This includes driving both the orientation programme and the FLY campaign to enable students to graduate on time.

Orientation week tends to run smoothly. What is your recipe for this?

When students arrive at the University they are overwhelmed and need to be guided into a smooth transition to the new environment. All planning for the orientation programme tends to keep this in mind. A common problem of orientation is that there is an overload of information for the first year student. 

In 2019 I chose to use themes to prevent a repetition of unnecessary information. We invite students to come to orientation to get a “TASTE of UP”. This is through:

  • Technology where we introduce the students to the platform that UP uses, the hybrid approach to teaching, an online module taken by all first year students and also highlight the use of social media.
  • Academic support provided by lecturers and FSAs.
  • Support from the Health Services, Disability Unit and Support Services (Counselling).
  • Transitions are addressed by focusing on the availability of mentors, the senior students’ experiences and a snapshot of being ready for work.
  • The Expectations of being a student at UP is a focus.

How much work goes into the preparation of orientation week?

Immediately after orientation of one year we note what worked and what didn’t. These issues are parked for when we plan the next year’s orientation. The actual preparation for orientation week starts at the end of the first semester with allocating venues, negotiating with the faculties to get their co-operation and then plotting the programme to run across ten faculties on the six campuses.

There are 43 separate programmes and a change in one has a knock-on effect on many others.

What does a typical day in your job entail?

My varied areas of management ensure that there is always something challenging afoot. From attending many meetings to thinking up new initiatives for student success and implementing them with passion. I often have staff come to share their challenges with me and we collectively develop solutions.

What are some of the challenges you face?

I need to keep abreast of how spending across the various accounts is done on a daily basis. Extra diligence is required with the external funds which run into millions of rands per year.

What do you love about your job?

I love the freedom to be creative as long as I can justify how what I do benefits the students. My strategic position regarding student success enables me to integrate activities which, in many other institutions, operate in silos. The staff I work with are always open to new ideas and their energy keeps me going. I value that staff see me as a mentor.

What career advice do you have for women?

There is a difference between your background and your foreground. Your picture of your foreground will take you where you want to be. Yes, there will be hurdles, but if you put enough energy and effort into achieving what you want, you will get there.

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