Pas­sion for sci­ence pays div­i­dends

Post - - News - NADIA KHAN

MAK­ING waves in the field of sci­ence, a Pi­eter­mar­itzburg woman was hon­oured by the Uni­ver­sity of KwaZulu-Na­tal as one of five Won­der Women in Sci­ence for her am­bi­tion, love of sci­ence and pas­sion for agri­cul­tural en­gi­neer­ing.

Alaika Kas­sim, 29, who also holds a BSc and MSc, grad­u­ated with her PhD in agri­cul­tural en­gi­neer­ing this year and be­came the first woman lec­turer in the dis­ci­pline of biore­source en­gi­neer­ing at UKZN.

Kas­sim, the first fe­male chair­woman of the South African In­sti­tute of Agri­cul­tural Engi­neers, a reg­u­la­tory body in the in­dus­try, said her love of sci­ence started at Raisethorpe Sec­ondary School.

“I can still re­mem­ber it like it was yes­ter­day. We were do­ing prac­ti­cals dur­ing a physics class and as I looked through the mi­cro­scope, I thought this was so in­ter­est­ing and wanted to learn more. I knew I was des­tined to be­come a sci­en­tist.”

Kas­sim be­came a ded­i­cated and hard-work­ing pupil, at­tain­ing an A ag­gre­gate in ma­tric.

She went on to study at UKZN’s School of En­gi­neer­ing.

“I had the pas­sion and re­ally en­joyed ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, aca­demics and re­search. With­out ques­tion, it was a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion for me to pur­sue a PhD.

“There have been ups and downs through­out the years, but I have al­ways had a flair for maths and sci­ence and tried to ex­cel in all my sub­jects.”

She said her par­ents sup­ported her in her en­deav­ours and en­cour­aged her to give of her best.

“They brought me up with good val­ues and morals, which is some­thing I hold dear, even to­day. My sib­lings also pro­tected and sup­ported me through­out my life.”

As a woman en­gi­neer, she said she had to prove her worth to her male coun­ter­parts and fe­male col­leagues, who had given her a tough time be­cause she was young.

De­spite this, she con­tin­ues to en­cour­age fu­ture women sci­en­tists to work hard and suc­ceed.

“You will be re­warded with more than what you put in. To­day we have many op­por­tu­ni­ties for women in sci­ence. We need to use th­ese op­por­tu­ni­ties to show­case our ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”

In her spare time, she en­joys re­lax­ing with her hus­band, Asif Satar, and fam­ily.

She is also in­volved in post­grad­u­ate work with stu­dents, and gives mo­ti­va­tional talks to stu­dents in school about pur­su­ing a ca­reer in sci­ence.

“I wish to con­tinue with re­search that makes a dif­fer­ence to the lives of many, and hope to one day make food more ac­ces­si­ble and sus­tain­able.” the mo­ment but I want to spe­cialise in the field so I would need more hours and more ex­pe­ri­ence. Wa­ter en­gi­neer­ing is more chal­leng­ing as well and I en­joy chal­leng­ing my­self and push­ing my mind,” he said.

Na­gan is ex­pect­ing to grad­u­ate with top marks again at the end of next year.

Ver­non Na­gan with his sib­lings, from left, Rod­ney, De­laine, and par­ents See­lan and Cookie. With them is his grand­mother Pus­pha Goven­der.

Dr Alaika Kas­sim is the first woman lec­turer in biore­source en­gi­neer­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of KwaZu­luNatal.

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