VUT Girls in STEM Seminar helps bridge the gender gap in the field
By: Themba Nyovane – 31 August 2023
Learners at one of the VUT Laboratories
On 25 August 2023 the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) in collaboration with the Midvaal Local Municipality hosted the 2023 Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Seminar at the University’s Desmond Tutu Great Hall.
The primary objective of the seminar was to empower young school and University students within the fields of STEM. The gathering centered on advancing STEM education and opportunities among high school girls, aiming to inspire them to conquer obstacles and thrive in traditionally male-dominated sectors. Esteemed guest speakers from diverse backgrounds graced the event, sharing insights, recounting their journeys, and offering invaluable advice to high school learners. Their varied perspectives enriched the comprehensive discourse.
In line with the country’s projections of producing more than 57 000 graduates in engineering, the seminar acknowledged the need for increased campaign awareness, mentorship initiatives, and exposure to STEM among high school girls. It also aimed to contribute to breaking societal stereotypes and financial barriers that affect confidence and participation in STEM fields, especially for young girls.
The seminar encompassed exhibitions presented by participating firms who showcased groundbreaking innovations, prospects, and strides within the realm of STEM – these included Rand Water, MerSETA, SAASTA, Arcellor Mittal-Science Centre, and South African Blood Transfusion Services. This also included the various departments from the University. The involvement of multiple stakeholders, recognition of high school girls, and the presence of esteemed guest speakers and firms underscore the significance of the event in promoting STEM education and careers among girls to bridge the gap and provide them with role models.
Prof Maggi Linington, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) for Teaching-Learning & Quality Promotions (QP), welcomed distinguished guests and highlighted that it has been three years without an event of this nature due to Covid-19. “Today we speak of women in STEM but first and foremost is the role of identity. Identity is key to every existence of nature and defines our purpose,” she emphasized.
Taking to the podium was also the architect of change who aspires to inspire, a brilliant young Junior Mayor of Midvaal Local Municipality, Ms Itumeleng Phiri. Itumeleng kicked off by emphasizing that with the acceleration to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a lot needs to be done, moreover by women in South Africa. She also explained that “the role of STEM initiatives is indeed crucial, to inform, to educate, and to prepare young girls for the 4IR. STEM initiatives encompasses disciplines that pave a way into problem-solving, however with multiple challenges that requires women to harness the power of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The Junior Mayor also acknowledged the role of VUT and its partnership with the Municipality for such initiatives, along with all other key stakeholders”.
Ms Refilwe Buthelezi, a former VUT Chairperson of Council who is also a professional engineer and President of the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), also weighed in and said: “This world is a ‘HE for She’ and for us to breakthrough the barriers of diversity and inclusivity, gender-bias, and stereotypes, we need to work with men, because on our own we would be preaching to the choir”. Throughout her career, Ms. Buthelezi built a reputation for operational excellence, digital technology, corporate governance, innovative strategic thinking working with the highest level of integrity, as well as passion to empower others.
During her talk, she also shared her insights on overcoming challenges and biases in STEM fields, stressing the importance of planning, time management, and support structures for building a successful future. Furthermore, she encouraged unity among women professionals in STEM, emphasizing the collective effort needed to solve complex problems within communities.
In conclusion, she also emphasized the need to think globally and appreciate the global challenges, but making the world a playground as this will afford the expansion of global engineers in STEM. Additionally, she brought to light that being part of ECSA ensures that engineers can perform and practice with ethics, and to maneuver mobility that offer engineers in South Africa to work beyond the nation borders. On the importance and application of research, Ms Buthelezi told learners that the depth of knowledge would help in paving a way to better version of understanding the world and its challenges.
In closing, Prof. Christa Globler, the Executive Dean for the Faculty of Applied & Computer Sciences at VUT, highlighted the importance of adaptability, perseverance, and hard work in pursuing education and future opportunities.