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The Engagement Office under the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Engagement (DVC: RIE) at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) is playing host to the third Engagement Showcase and Pitching Awards 2024.

The first segment of the event entailed DUT staff and students pitching their engagement activities or projects they are undertaking to be selected for receiving seed funding to further develop their projects.

Phumzile Xulu, the DUT  Engagement Practitioner gave context to the event saying that the third Engagement Showcase and Pitching Awards 2024 recognises projects initiated by both staff and students. “The purpose of the awards is to showcase engagement activities at DUT and support staff and students engaging in community projects with seed funding to further develop their projects,” she said.

Xulu emphasised that the projects will be scored and selected, using a scoring rubric and projects with high scores will be selected as winners. She further mentioned that there are seven areas that the projects will be scored on such as the evidence of an identified problem or need in the targeted community where the presenter must be able to identify the problem the project is addressing or the need in the target community.

She also indicated that the project must be aligned to DUT ENVISION2030, be able to identify the strategic areas the project is addressing and how it is or will be achieved.

The winners will receive the following prizes in each category: first prize-R30 000, second prize-R20 000. and the third prize is R10 000. All projects that have been selected to be in the top ten but do not receive the top prizes will each receive R3000.  The main facilitators at the event were Samukelisiwe Nhlabathi and Runyararo Marima. The judges were made up of DUT staff and industry stakeholders and from DUT were Noluthando Mchunu, Philisiwe Cele, Buhle Ndawonde, Dr Bloodless Dzwairo, Nalini Chitanand and from industry were Thandazo Jafta,  Nompumelelo Madonda, Fathima Mohamed and Nadim Aziz.

The day kicked off with staff and students divided into separate rooms to pitch their projects. Some of the staff project presentations included an exciting array of topics where DUT’s Dr Farai Dziike, a postdoctoral fellow, spoke on the production of bio-brick and block variations from waste plastic fused-sugarcane bagasse ash (SBA) in combination with suitable binders. The other combination of presentations ranged from research conversations with Faculty of Management Sciences (FMS), Zandile Mahlobo, and the Faculty of Health Sciences Khula Wellness Initiative presentation delivered by Dr Pavitra Pillay.

Dr Pillay explained that non-governmental organisation (NGO) that runs the clinic relies on donor funding and caters to the communities in St Lucia- Khula Village. She explained that besides providing healthcare they also run upskill sewing, HIV/TB counselling and IT courses where the beneficiaries are women, children, and the elderly. “We have enlightened our students and educators and contributed to their teaching and learning experience,” she said.

Dr Pillay commented that despite this being the Faculty of Health Sciences initiated community engagement venture with the Khula community, it started on a journey towards reducing inequality.

Some of the exciting student presentations included  presentations by Sinalenjabulo Ndlovu on the Nonkululeko Catherine Foundation which is a dedicated non-profit organisation that aims to mobilise the youth, empower communities and to address social issues. Thembelihle Queen Hadebe focused on coding and robotics whilst Lungile Madi spoke on digital discovery.

One of the judges at the event, Noluthando Mchunu, Manager from the Design Studio was impressed by the calibre of students who had pitched. “This level of preparation and professionalism speaks volumes about the commitment of these students to their brands, and it reflects positively on DUT as an institution that produces industry-ready graduates. I was particularly pleased to see how effectively they articulated their ideas and pitched them with conviction. It reinforces my confidence in the quality of education provided by DUT and its ability to nurture talent that can thrive in real-world scenarios,” she commented.

Nadim Aziz, New Business Director at Cerebro Creative, said: “My thanks to DUT’s  Engagement team, staff, fellow panelists, and participants for including me in the insightful Pitching Session Engagement. The event fostered fresh perspectives and showcased the students’ remarkable enthusiasm and passion during their presentations. It was particularly inspiring to witness their strong sense of accountability and leadership for the communities they serve. Engagements like this exemplify DUT’s commitment to nurturing strong university-industry relationships. Such initiatives directly contribute to achieving the ENVISION2030 and Engagement Framework 2030 goals of developing engaged citizens who empower positive change within our communities.”

After the exciting presentations, Xulu was also gobsmacked by the remarkable efforts put forth by both DUT staff and dedicated students in the engagement initiatives. “Their unwavering commitment and passion have truly made a profound impact on the lives of those around us. The quality of presentations and the projects that were pitched are testimony that DUT is indeed an engaged university,” she said.

She emphasised that the DUT staff have showed leadership and selfless dedication to fostering positive change and creating meaningful connections within the community, which serve as an inspiration to all. “We are also impressed with our students’ enthusiasm, creativity, and compassion which have clearly been the driving force behind the engagement initiatives presented.   We are so proud of your willingness to step up and actively contribute to projects aimed at making a difference which exemplifies the values and principles as contained in our Living Values Framework under the DUT’s ENVISION2030,” she said.

A hybrid awards ceremony will be held on Tuesday, 26 March 2024 to celebrate with staff and students whose projects were selected to receive their Engagement Showcase Awards 2024.

Pictured: Attendees at the third Engagement Showcase and Pitching Awards 2024.

Photography: Mnqobi Fanas Ngobese

Waheeda Peters

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