Nishani Harinarain

The first week of August marks important times in South Africa’s future and past. National Science Week (3 – 8 August) is a countrywide initiative that promotes careers in Science, Engineering and Technology to South African students. National Women’s Day (9 August) marks the 59th anniversary of the 1956 march of 20 000 women, who petitioned against the country’s pass laws.

Both events shed light on important issues: a skills shortage in Science, Engineering and Technology; and the limited female presence in these fields. UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science showcases its support for both causes in a series of articles that acknowledges its very own Wonder Women in Science. These are passionate, pioneering and persistent heroines (within the college) who are “kicking ass” in Science and stand as shining examples for all women.

Dr Nishani Harinarain is UKZN’s first PhD graduate in Construction Management and a woman succeeding in a male-dominated environment. She is also this 2014’s Distinguished Teacher Awardee from the School of Engineering.

Harinarain produced a dissertation titled: “Effective HIV and AIDS Management: A South African Construction Sector Model”. The model effectively manages HIV and AIDS in the construction industry using structural equation modelling. As a lecturer, she believes that a rigorous and exciting learning environment is required to move the college forward.

Making a positive impact on the world inspires her work and passion. “Helping people and finding ways to solve problems is something that is very close to my heart”, she says.

Working in the male-dominated Engineering field, Harinarain remains ambitious and determined. “I don’t necessarily view this as a challenge but more like an opportunity to be different and authentic”.

Juggling a demanding job with her roles of being a mum and wife has proven to be a struggle for Nishani. She believes that if she were to have the power of telekinesis, it would definitely lighten the load or shift obstacles out of her way at the very least.

Inspiring greatness to Nishani means doing your best to help, assist and bring out the best in others. She uses Chariots of Fire by Vangelis as her theme song to bring out the best in herself.

She uses the words of Harriet Tubman in her message to budding scientists. “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world”.

The College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science commends Dr Harinarain for her pioneering spirit and passion for teaching. Girl power meets brain power in the story of this Wonder Woman in Science.


Words and Graphics: Sashlin Girraj