Howard College’s UNITE building was abuzz with beauty and brains as the top STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) female students at UKZN gathered for a celebratory High Tea.
The event, sponsored by Johnson & Johnson under the Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Manufacturing and Design (WiSTEM2D) banner, aimed to inspire and motivate UKZN’s top 100 female STEM students to stay and thrive in their chosen science careers. They spent an uplifting afternoon not only having fun and being spoilt, but more importantly, listening to inspiring role models.
Welcoming UKZN’s new generation of young female scientists, (South African Research Chairs Initiative) SARChI Chair in Waste and Climate Change and champion of the WiSTEM2D programme at UKZN, Professor Cristina Trois, encouraged the students not to be intimidated if they were the only woman at a gathering but rather to thrive and succeed.
Keynote speaker Deputy Director and Head of Treatment at the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) Professor Kogie Naidoo told the story of her own personal and professional journey in STEM, from humble beginnings to leading a global hub for HIV and TB treatment and prevention. Naidoo encouraged the students to overcome obstacles, follow their passion and commit to studying towards a career they loved and that would enthral them for the rest of their lives.
PhD candidate in the HIV Pathogenesis Programme at UKZN Ms Zakithi Mkhize spoke of the power of social media to promote a sisterhood of scientists. Her YouTube channel, #BlackGirlScientist has exploded on the social media scene, meeting a need for young female scientists to connect with each other, especially after the burdens of lockdown. Mkhize shared how she actively uses science communication to help others to navigate being a woman in STEM.
UKZN alumnus, media personality and counselling psychologist Ms Rakhi Beekrum spoke of the importance of mental health and of integrating the personal with the professional. She urged the young scientists to make sure that their interests, abilities and aptitudes were aligned as they pursued their studies and future careers in STEM.
Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South African and fellow UKZN alumnus, Professor Nomali Ngobese – now a professor at North-West University – shared how perseverance and commitment ensured that she succeeded to rise above disadvantage to a place where she could give back to society as a food security specialist. Ngobese is passionate about using science and innovation to create an equitable future where every person has access to resources and opportunities.
‘We believe women can be catalysts for creating healthier people, healthier communities and a healthier world,’ said Johnson & Johnson representative Ms Michelle Lang in closing.
* Video link: A short video link showing highlights of the UKZN Johnson & Johnson WiSTEM2D Women in STEM High Tea can be viewed HERE.
Words: Sally Frost
Photograph: Albert Hirasen