School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science

Top Mathematics pupils, teachers and staff at the Women in Analytics function hosted by UKZN’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science.

UKZN and SAS Champion Young Women in Analytics

In an effort to attract top performers to the field of data analytics and ensure that women are well represented in and exposed to this exciting career, UKZN’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science teamed up with the Statistical Analysis System (SAS) to offer an information session and recruitment drive with a difference.

The brainchild of Dean and Head of the School, Professor Delia North a high tea was held at the Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga for a select group of Durban’s top performing Grade 11 schoolgirls, along with their Mathematics teachers.

Schools targeted in the pilot project included Durban Girls’ High School, Westville Girls’ High School, Eden College, Star College, Thomas More College, Crawford La Lucia and Danville Park Girls’ High School.

In welcoming the girls to the event, North explained: ‘Our aim is to attract a critical mass of high performing students to UKZN to take up the challenge of data analytics and statistics – a field that offers exciting career opportunities and which needs female representation.

‘At UKZN we have top lecturers in Statistics and are passionate about equipping girls in this field.’

North thanked Mr Jeremy Beukes, who on behalf of “Quantify your Future”, sponsored eight Takealot vouchers for the lucky draw, whilst UKZN sponsored a Huawei P20 Pro mobile phone.

Keynote speaker at the event was a professor of Applied Statistics and Data Science at Kennesaw State University in Georgia in the United States, Professor Jennifer Priestley, who is also the Director of the Centre for Statistics and Analytical Services at the university. Prior positions Priestly has held include Vice-President of Business Development for VISA EU and Vice-President for Business Development for MasterCard International.

Priestley outlined the role women can play in the field of data analytics and encouraged the young performers to consider the possibilities it offered.

‘2.5 quintillian bites of data are generated every day,’ said Priestley. ‘We have generated more data in the last two years than in the whole of human history. Somewhere hidden in that data are the solutions to the problems we are facing in society and in our communities. The current lack of demographic representation amongst data analysts is contributing to bad algorithms.

‘The computational sciences need women. They need your voices in the algorithms that shape our lives.’

UKZN alumnus Dr Nonhlanhla Yende-Zuma provided an overview of her life story, from humble beginnings to PhD statistics graduate and Head of Biostatistics at the world-renowned Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA).

Yende-Zuma, who was the first Black South African to acquire a PhD in Statistics, was awarded the qualification for investigations she did into the best time to start treatment for HIV patients co-infected with TB.

‘I come from Ntamhlophe, a deep rural area near Escourt,’ said Yende-Zuma. ‘I was the first person in the whole area to go to university. The school I attended had no science lab and all learning was theoretical. I had never used a computer before I came to UKZN. Yet I succeeded.’

‘It was self-motivation and mental strength that kept me going. I knew I had to focus and work hard. Maths was my safe place.’

Yende-Zuma offered the following gems of advice: ‘Go the extra mile. Think out the box. Be trustworthy and reliable. If you want something, go and get it. Be humble, but don’t be apologetic. Be open-minded. Don’t take things personally. Don’t underestimate the task. Forgive yourself. Compete with yourself.’

Current UKZN PhD students and lecturers Ms Danielle Roberts, Ms Nombuso Zondo and Ms Arusha Desai ended the presentations by sharing their thoughts on what they wished they had known about study and career opportunities when they were at school. The trio then led round table discussions with the girls and their teachers, while enjoying a well-deserved high tea.

‘We are very excited with this initiative to attract high performers to UKZN and to the field of data analytics,’ said North.

‘With the support of SAS and the success of this pilot, our next event will target boys.

Watch the space. Data for Dudes is in the pipeline!

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Albert Hirasen