The School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS) hosted its second Women in Analytics event to expose young women to the field and contribute to better representation of women in data analytics careers.
Dean and Head of the SMSCS, Professor Delia North welcomed more than 80 distinguished guests, speakers, teachers, and top performing Grade 11 girls from high schools in KwaZulu-Natal to the virtual event after a musical item from Mr Jerryn Fosteras. She highlighted that the programme was designed around successful women in data science to inspire young women in their own careers.
‘At UKZN, we link very closely with industry because we want to make sure that our programmes are aligned with the needs of industry, and deliver the kind of graduates into the workplace that are needed,’ said North.
She encouraged young women to pick a starting point of versatility, to look for programmes that support qualifications in high demand, and to choose wisely based on their passions, going on to explain the structure of data science degrees at UKZN.
North thanked industry partners and sponsors in attendance for their support. Event sponsors included the South African Graduate Employers Association (SAGEA), Johnson & Johnson, the International Statistical Institute, the Department of Science and Innovation-National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence in Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES), and SAS.
Keynote speaker Professor Jennifer Priestley of the Centre for Statistics and Analytical Services at Kennesaw State University in the United States encouraged young women to study computational disciplines to help propel their careers and better equip them to contribute to society.
‘Somewhere hidden in the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data that we generate every day are the solutions to the problems you are thinking about right now, that are important to your community,’ she said. ‘We just have to develop the skills, the methods and the technology that we need to extract the solutions that will make a difference. The innovators, the scientists, the great discoverers of these solutions will be those who are today excelling in mathematics.’
Dr Julia Keddie, senior lecturer at the University of the Western Cape, spoke about bringing back her learning from industry to academia, highlighting the importance of training statisticians and data scientists to make business decisions that are scientifically based.
UKZN statistics alumna Ms Samantha Reade said the fact that this field touches so many others, and provides graduates with a skillset that is in high demand, motivated her to persist with postgraduate studies in statistics, saying UKZN provided a supportive, positive, caring learning environment.
Statistics lecturer Ms Danielle Roberts advised learners to build on their knowledge incrementally, implement a good learning system, conduct themselves professionally, and to seek assistance when needed.
Statistics lecturer Ms Arusha Desai shared her own career journey, and gave learners tips on surviving their first year of university.
Mr Jeremy Beukes from SAGEA spoke about their ‘Quantify Your Future’ initiative, saying SAGEA was excited to be partnering with UKZN in its new suite of data science programmes, and thanking several organisations for sponsoring prizes through this initiative.
Lecturer in the SMSCS Ms Nombuso Zondo said the modern way to teach statistics is to let students discover the story in the data, facilitating an activity allowing learners to examine several variables in data sourced from Statistics South Africa’s Labour Force Survey to derive important information.
Mr Andre Zitzke from SAS spoke of the organisation’s excitement at being part of the event, saying UKZN is one of Africa’s premiere sites for studying data science, an important distinction as the future becomes more data-driven. He thanked UKZN for hosting the event to make a difference to the lives of young women, their families, and the country.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the CAES Professor Albert Modi congratulated North for a successful function, saying he hoped learners who choose UKZN experience the positive outcomes highlighted, and said the advice given would encourage young women to keep achieving greatness, and broadcast to people the value of data science.
Words: Christine Cuénod
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Watch the keynote speech