Arts & Academia

South Africa’s STEM Women – Leading a Younger Generation

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The South African Women in Science Awards (SAWiSA), an annual celebration of women in science and technology, coordinated by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) took place on the 23rd of August, 2018 in Limpopo. The awards profile women scientists and researchers who serve as role models for younger women, and encourage and reward younger women who have begun their careers as researchers and scientists.

The theme for the 2018 SAWiSA event was “100 Years of Mama Albertina Sisulu: Women United in Moving South Africa Forward”.

Prof. Azwihangwisi Helen Mavhandu-Mudzusi

Professor Mavhandu-Mudzusi is currently a Professor in the Department of Health Studies and the Chairperson of the Research Ethics Committee of the College of Human Sciences at the University of South Africa (UNISA). Prof. Mavhandu-Mudzusi holds a PhD in Public Administration from the University of Venda.

Prof. Mavhandu-Mudzusi’s main research objectives centres on the reduction of new HIV infections, and the improvement of the quality of life of people living with HIV in rural universities. Integral to these objectives is the work that Prof. Mavhandu-Mudzusi does in advocating for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) students. This shift has led Prof. Mavhandu-Mudzusi to develop an advocacy, care and support model for LGBTIQ students, and a management model for staff and students living with HIV. The implementation of these models has assisted in economically empowering both women living with HIV, and homosexual and gender non-conforming women in the changing world of the workplace.

With an NRF C3 rating, Prof. Mavhandu-Mudzusi is the author of 29 peer-reviewed publications, a book chapter, and 23 peer-reviewed conference papers. She is involved in a multi-country and multi-university project entitled “Destabilising Heteronormativity in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) institutions of Higher Education”. Prof. Mavhandu-Mudzusi is the principal investigator in a collaborative cross-national research project with the University of Liège, and Alliant International University, on the attitudes of heterosexual university students towards same-gender marriage and parenting. Prof. Mavhandu-Mudzusi has successfully supervised 3 PhDs and 15 Masters students and is currently supervising 10 PhD and 10 Masters students at UNISA, in addition to mentoring 2 doctoral students in the new Generation of Academics’ Programme (nGAP) at Sefako Makgato and Limpopo Universities.

A professional nurse, registered with the South African Nursing Council, Prof. Mavhandu-Mudzusi is a Make-up Art Cosmetics AIDS Fund Leadership Initiative Fellow of the University of Columbia, University of California (Los Angeles) and Human Sciences Research Council. She is the guest editor for two journals, as well as a reviewer for several international and local journals and conferences.

Professor Colleen Downs

Winning the natural sciences category was Professor Colleen Downs. She is currently a full professor of Zoology in the School of Life Sciences, and a University Fellow at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Pietermaritzburg campus. Prof. Downs holds an NRF SARChI Research Chair in Ecosystem Health and Biodiversity in KZN and the E. Cape. She holds a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Natal, now UKZN.

Prof. Downs is a terrestrial vertebrate biologist with broad and interdisciplinary research interests. These include conservation, ecology, physiology, and behaviour of terrestrial vertebrates (herps, birds, and mammals) in unpredictable environments and with changing land use. Prof. Down’s other interest is science education, particularly problems experienced by Biology students and the development of strategies to address such problems. Her other contribution has been in the development of research capacity, particularly at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Prof. Downs is the author of over 264 international peer-reviewed publications and 6 book chapters.  Prof. Downs has established a strong interdisciplinary research group at UKZN, and currently supervises 15 PhD and 16 MSc students, and mentors 5 postdoctoral fellows. She has successfully supervised 35 PhD and 46 MSc students. Prof. Downs has also supervised exchange students from Reunion, Konstanz, John Hopkins Liverpool, and Amsterdam Universities.

Professor Tricia Naicker

Professor Tricia Naicker is University of KwaZulu Natal’s youngest Associate Professor in the College of Health Sciences and Academic Leader (HOD) for the Discipline of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Prof. Naicker completed her PhD in an area (asymmetric organocatalysis) that was the first to be explored in Africa.  Prof. Naicker’s fully published thesis and academic efforts won her the 2011 DST Women in Science doctoral fellowship. Her research outputs endorsed the prestigious Oppenheimer postdoctoral award, which she pursued at Aarhus University, Denmark under the guidance of world-renowned leader Prof. KA Jorgensen (H- index 90); Prof. Naicker was the first candidate from the African continent to be accepted into this esteemed research facility.

She was appointed as a senior lecturer at UKZN in 2013. Based on her specialized expertise and being the pioneer in the field, the highly-ranked Catalysis and Peptide Research Unit at UKZN commenced collaboration with her as the first women to join their team. After a short time, Prof. Naicker has become a principal investigator in the unit and took over the leadership of the synthetic division for drug discovery.  She has thus far secured more than R5M in funding as main/co-applicant and has graduated 10 MSc and 4 PhD students as main/co-supervisor. She is currently supervising 5 MSc’s, 3 PhD’s students and mentoring 3 postdoctoral fellows. Prof. Naicker currently has a remarkable 72 international peer-reviewed publications. In addition, she serves as an editor for the South Africa Journal of Chemistry. She maintains the importance of active research by the mentorship of younger academics/postgrads by initiating collaborations (local and international) with emerging researchers as well as school learners to further their studies. Her current research interests are focused toward method development in organic synthesis of biologically important intermediates/drugs within the field of antibacterials.
This work has led to a patent of innovative new molecules targeting drug-resistant bacteria which is currently a severe global epidemic.

The DST is also committed to ensuring that the next generation of scientist and researchers are well trained and supported. The annual awards include categories that reward outstanding student talent.

The star performers included

Miss Keneilwe Hlahane

Keneilwe Hlahane obtained her BSc Geology degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).  Miss Hlahane further went on to complete a BSc Honors degree in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and is currently enrolled as a Masters student in GIS and Remote Sensing at the same university.

Miss Hlahane’s MSc research forms part of the Earth Observation National Eutrophication Monitoring Project which is led by CyanoLakes (Pty) Ltd and funded by the South African Water Research Commission.  Miss Hlahane’s Master’s project focuses on Monitoring Eutrophication using GIS and Satellite Remote Sensing in the Vaal River, Gauteng. Eutrophication is a water pollution problem that deteriorates water quality. Miss Hlahane’s research is important because it aims to find new methods of studying the water quality in rivers, and the study will present new methods of monitoring water quality using data obtained from remote sensing satellites. She has presented preliminary results of her MSc dissertation to the Rand Water Board and the Water Research Commission (WRC).  She has also assisted as a GIS intern in a project assessing the Acid Mine Drainage pollution at Tweelopiesspruit, Westrand, South Africa.

Miss Hlahane has been awarded the GIS ESRI Young Scholar Award 2017 for South Africa. As the winning young scholar, Miss Hlahane presented her research at the ESRI International User Conference in San Diego, United States of America, July 2017. She represented Esri South Africa at a special exhibition at the conference for leading students from around the world who have shown excellence in research associated with using GIS Esri software

Miss Hlahane has published and contributed to a book chapter entitled Management and Mitigation of Acid Mine Drainage. Miss Hlahane’s work has also been published in Science Today magazine, in an article “Every drop counts, watching the water from space”. The article was selected as part of the best postgraduate science writing 2016 competition.

Miss Hlahane has also been awarded student conference scholarships to present her MSc work at the International Symposium of Remote Sensing of the Environment, Tshwane, South Africa in May 2017.

She was awarded a scholarship to participate in a summer school by the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) 2016, together with scholars from various universities such as the University of Copenhagen, University of Oxford and University of Cambridge. The course presented sustainable water management in Africa. Miss Hlahane has also been awarded several student conference scholarships to present her MSc work, at the International Symposium of Remote Sensing of the environment, Tshwane, South Africa in May 2017.

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