Siyaphumelela South African delegates attend DREAM2024

Ashton Maherry

2024 marks 20 years of Achieving the Dream (ATD) and 10 years of partnership between ATD and Saide’s Siyaphumelela initiative. The DREAM conference is Achieving the Dream’s signature event, drawing over 2 200 educational practitioners from 300+ colleges. It serves as a platform to explore and delve into college transformation as a catalyst for equity and economic vitality and to showcase evidence-based strategies that drive access, momentum, mobility, and community impact. DREAM2024 marks the tenth 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.

The South African delegation comprised 38 participants including, academic staff from all 17 universities that are currently part of the Saide Siyaphumelela student success initiative, the Saide executive director and the Siyaphumelela project leader, one Council for Higher Education (CHE) staff member, one Department of Higher Education (DHET) official and the Siyaphumelela ATD Dream Scholar. Twenty-two delegates received sponsorship to attend the conference from The Kresge Foundation.

A pre-conference welcome reception was hosted by The Kresge Foundation, providing an opportunity for the South African and New Zealand delegates to relax and unwind after travelling to the USA and to meet the ATD team. Dr Karen Stout, president and CEO of ATD, Bill Moses, managing director for The Kresge Foundation’s Education Programme, Jenny Glennie Executive Director at Saide and the head of the New Zealand delegation, warmly welcomed the delegates to DREAM2024.

South African delegates participating in the DREAM programme, included:

  • Francois Strydom from the University of the Free State presented  a 30-minute “Lightning Learning” session entitled, “Going Far Together: Sustaining Momentum, Success, and Equity”; and
  • Alan Amory and Jenny Glennie from Saide and Bill Moses from The Kresge Foundation presented a one-hour “Spotlight” session, “Siyaphumelela’s Journey Towards Equity in South African Universities: Moving from Access to Success”;

This year marked a significant milestone as a Siyaphumelela ATD DREAM Scholar was selected to attend the DREAM conference for the first time. The DREAM Scholars programme offers an experiential learning opportunity for seven community college students in the US (and this year, one SA university student) aimed at fostering leadership skills. This culminates in the Dream Scholars being given a platform at the annual DREAM conference to make a presentation.

In 2023, Saide initiated an open nomination process among Siyaphumelela Partner Institutions to identify deserving students who have benefited from Siyaphumelela’s student success interventions.  After a rigorous review process, Simphiwe Kunene from the University of the Free State was selected as the Siyaphumelela ATD DREAM Scholar to participate in the conference.

Simphiwe among the eight 2024 DREAM Scholars, presented their  “ I am from” poems, receiving standing ovations at the conference.

Simphiwe ATD Scholar

The Siyaphumelela ATD DREAM Scholar, Simphiwe Kunene, and Prof Francois Strydom, Siyaphumelela Institutional Lead at the University of the Free-State at the DREAM 2024 conference.

During the annual DREAM Recognitions Luncheon, ATD presented several special awards in celebration of its 20th anniversary. Among these honours were the Siyaphumelela Network Awards, bestowed upon the universities that are part of the Siyaphumelela 2.0 Network.

Siyaphumelela awards

Jenny Glennie (Saide) at the Recognitions Luncheon at which the Siyaphumelela Network Awards were bestowed upon the 17 public universities comprising the Siyaphumelela 2.0 Network.

ATD SA delegates

Lerato Sekonyela, Programme Manager for Student Academic Support, and the Dean of Student Affairs Ms Nicole Morris accept the Siyaphumelela Network Award on behalf of Sol Plaatje University.

Midway through the conference week, the Kresge Foundation hosted a special cultural event and dinner at the Orange County Regional History Center in downtown Orlando. The event brought together  South African delegates, New Zealand delegates, ATD Board Members, ATD staff and coaches for a memorable evening.  Adding a touch of authenticity and camaraderie, Dr Mzwandile Khumalo from Durban University of Technology led the South African delegates in singing “Shosholoza,” fostering a sense of connection and unity among attendees at the event.

The South African programme concluded with a DREAM2024 Debrief, offering South African delegates a chance to reflect on their experience during the conference. Using a consensus-building approach, delegates collectively identified  key takeaways including:

  • The importance of integrating the student voice
  • Reimagining student access, success and employability
  • Recognising that success should to lead to employability and mobility
  • Identifying data sources for student tracking
  • Levering advising analytics (guided pathways)
  • Strengthening spaces for inclusion and belonging
  • Using data in diverse ways to understand the student journey/experience and improve planning
  • Moving beyond outcomes to impact and evaluation using data.

There was also unanimous agreement among South African delegates to always include a DREAM Scholar from South Africa, a provision planned for in the Siyaphumelela 3.0 Initiative. 

Special gratitude is extended go to 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 coordinating and logistics.