Close to 600 people registered for this year’s Wonder Women in Science (WWIS) webinar that celebrated the achievements of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science’s (CAES) five Wonder Women, one from each of its Schools, who shared their stories of choosing and excelling in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.
Held every year since 2015, the WWIS campaign is usually accompanied by a breakfast event that was this year transferred to an online commemoration in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The August event marks National Science Week and National Women’s Month by honouring female scientists in CAES who are pioneering innovative research and development, demonstrating passion for their fields, and mentoring up-and-coming young scientists.
The bumper programme included performances by South African singing sensation Lira, while television presenter Mr Katlego Maboe facilitated proceedings.
Groups of learners from Umkhumbane Secondary School in Chesterville and Ikusasalentsha Secondary School in Inanda appeared on the webinar (while carefully observing social distancing regulations) and received goodie bags from Amazon Web Services. Eden College in Durban hosted their own tea party while joining the webinar and received goodie bags from UKZN’s Corporate Relations Division. Several schools streamed the event in their classrooms but did not appear on the broadcast, including Nomavimbla High, Usethubenu Youth School, Solvista Secondary and AD Lazarus Secondary.
Attendees were treated to presentations from the 2020 WWIS candidates about their journeys into their respective fields of science.
‘Today, UKZN celebrates science, technology, engineering and mathematics on behalf of women who succeed in these endeavours and these disciplines,’ said Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the CAES, Professor Albert Modi. ‘These are the women who will be part of the solutions for this country and the world as we face many challenges, including climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.’
Dr Bongiwe Mshengu from the School of Chemistry and Physics, a senior tutor in UKZN’s Science Access Programme, spoke about her interest in science first being piqued when she was treated by a traditional healer, and encouraged scholars who were interested in science to investigate the various career options, explore their own interests, and work hard.
Professor Suna Kassier from the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences spoke about what inspired her interest in science, her academic journey, and her work in various specialities of dietetics that led her to realise her passion lay in teaching and inspiring young people. She advised attendees to pursue lifelong learning, not be daunted in the face of failure, and said accomplishment is achieved through adaptability and humility.
Dr Joy Adu from the School of Engineering addressed the challenges of coming from a humble background and being told what women could and could not do when she was a child, and the determination and inspiration from her grandmother that motivated her to pursue her passion for civil engineering, a problem-solving field she says presents endless possibilities to shape the world.
Microscopist and microbiologist Dr Lorika Beukes from the School of Life Sciences spoke about the passion for science she cultivated from a young age that enabled her to persevere to her science degrees through UKZN’s Science Access Programme, telling young people that no matter what their background, age, gender or race, they could succeed in the sciences through hard work and focus.
Dr Hloniphile Sithole Mthethwa from the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science described how mathematics drew her in from a young age and said it is like a language we all use daily and can become fluent in with enough practice. She emphasised the need for increased information, guidance, and a dismissal of the stigma of mathematics being too difficult to encourage young people to pursue the subject. She advised young women to look beyond the role models they see every day towards female leaders in STEM, and concluded by drawing attention to the urgent need to combat the scourge of gender-based violence in South Africa.
Each WWIS candidate received an award certificate from the CAES, and gifts from Umgeni Water and Amazon Web Services.
Dr Tanja Reinhardt (‘Dr T’) from the Science and Technology Education Centre at UKZN performed two fun science experiments to demonstrate the surface tension of water, and a catalytic reaction that forms a foamy substance known as ‘Elephant’s Toothpaste’. Assisted by UKZN staff on site, learners at Umkhumbane Secondary and Ikusasalentsha Secondary performed the experiments live under Dr T’s guidance.
The programme included lucky draws at the schools joining live and online, and lucky draws for online attendees, with prizes sponsored by Elsevier, Umgeni Water, 2CANA Solutions, and UKZN’s Information and Communication Services (ICS).
Event initiator and coordinator Mr Sashlin Girraj from UKZN closed the event with a vote of thanks for the work and support of the University and CAES Public Relations divisions, ICS, the CAES deputy vice-chancellor and administrative division, event sponsors, Dr T, Maboe and Lira and their teams, and the schools and guests who attended the webinar.
The webinar will be made available on the WWIS website.
Words: Mrs Christine Cuénod