Siyaphumelela South African delegates attend DREAM2023

Ashton Maherry

After two years of online conferences, there was much excitement among delegates about being able to participate, face-to-face, in this year’s Achieving the Dream (ATD’s) signature event, the DREAM2023 conference. Over 2 300 educational practitioners from over 300 colleges came together to explore college transformation as a catalyst for equity and economic vitality and to showcase evidence-based strategies that drive access, momentum, mobility, and community impact. DREAM2023 marks the ninth year that participants from South Africa have attended. In more recent years, colleagues from, New Zealand have also participated in DREAM, thus strengthening representation from the global South.

All 17 universities that are part of the Saide Siyaphumelela, student success initiative along with four Saide Siyaphumelela team members, one Council for Higher Education (CHE) representative and three Siyaphumelela Coaches made up the South African delegation, with 34 of the South African delegates receiving sponsorship to attend the conference from The Kresge Foundation. A pre-conference welcome reception was hosted by The Kresge Foundation, where South African and New Zealand delegates were able to relax and unwind after travelling to the USA and were able to meet the ATD team. Dr Karen Stout, president and CEO of ATD, Bill Moses, managing director for The Kresge Foundation’s Education Programme and Dr Alan Amory, Siyaphumelela Project Lead at Saide, welcomed the delegates to DREAM2023.


A photo from the Pre-Conference Welcome Reception held for SA and NZ delegates. Source: ATD.

South African delegates participated in the DREAM programme, with:

  • Mr Munienge Mbodila from Walter Sisulu University presenting a 30-minute “Lightning Learning” session entitled, Toward Institutionalising Student Success at One of the South African Universities in South Africa;
  • Prof Randhir Rawatlal from University of KwaZulu-Natal presented a one-hour session, “Supporting Automated Self-Study: The creation of meta-questions in auto-generated assessments”; and
  • A South African/New Zealand Panel presentation: “Acting with Urgency and Purpose: Adapting Lessons from New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States”, was facilitated by Bill Mosses (The Kresge Foundation) with South African panellists, Dr Mzwandile Khumalo (Durban University of Technology) and Prof Subethra Pather (University of the Western Cape). Prof Cheryl de la Rey, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Pretoria, and since 2019 Vice-Chancellor at University of Canterbury also participated in the panel and shared her experience of both South Africa and New Zealand.

Mid way through the conference week, a special Cultural Event and Dinner for South African and New Zealand Delegates was hosted by The Kresge Foundation. This took place at the American Writers Museum in downtown Chicago. As part of the cultural exchange, Saide’s Dr Loyiso Maciko, lead South African delegates in singing Shosholoza and the South African National Anthem and Prof Francois Strydom from the University of the Free State read a poem by acclaimed South African writer and academic, Antjie Krog.


Dr Karen Stout (ATD) and Dr Alan Amory (Saide) at the cultural event and dinner for the SA and NZ delegates held at the American Writer’s Museum. Source: Saide


The South African programme concluded with a DREAM2023 Debrief, where South African delegates were able to reflect on the conference. A consensus building process was used to identify the most important take-home message from DREAM. Unsurprisingly, it was the use of Data in all the presentations and discussions. SA Delegates were also asked to identify one practice from DREAM which they will take back to their institutions and implement, key among these were data (having systems/structures in place to support the use of data, equity-minded student success and big data analytics), allocative-efficiency (shifting costs to more efficient systems/practices), articulation from colleges to universities and the mental health of students and staff.

Many delegates concurred that a highlight in the DREAM programme were the eight 2023 DREAM Scholars, who presented their “ I am from” poems to standing ovations at the conference. The DREAM Scholars program is a year-long experiential learning opportunity for community college students to grow as leaders, culminating in a platform at the annual DREAM conference. The panel discussion of 2023 DREAM Scholars concluded the conference with the closing plenary session entitled, “Student Perspectives on Expanding Access, Success and Mobility”, emphasising the importance of listening to the student voice and placing the student at the centre of Student Success.


Closing Plenary Session with 2023 DREAM scholars. Source: ATD.

Special thanks go to the Achieving the Dream for hosting the South African Delegation, The Kresge Foundation for their generous sponsorship IIE for arranging travel for the delegates, and Saide for co-ordinating.