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The Deputy-Vice Chancellor for Research Innovation and Engagement (DVC RIE) Community Engagement Office recently hosted a workshop with Nka’Thuto Edu Propeller, at the Coastlands hotel on the Ridge, in Durban.

Nka’Thuto Edu Propeller is a non-profit organisation designed to create awareness around STEAM (Sciences, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), and entrepreneurship careers to high school learners in previously disadvantaged communities.

Nka’Thuto was established in 2016 by two young female scientists, Ms Thulile Khanyile and Ms Thandeka Mhlanga, who were driven by the vision to develop problem-solving skills through teaching science research principles and creating platforms to commercialise the science and engineering solutions.

The two partners hosted an Induction Workshop for 20 STEAM professionals consisting of Masters and PhD students and graduates in their respective fields, who were taken through an intense training programme, introducing them to the collaborative concept incubation programme. The professionals were trained to equip with skills to guide them on ways to mentor, teach, and add value to the vision of the programme.

“It is vital that our facilitators fully understand how crucial their role is in this programme and how best they must approach the learners, and the areas covered by the programme in a manner that will make them approachable, accessible, and at all times professional, without compromising the quality of subject material that we will be offering. We want the facilitators to be passionate, creative, enthusiastic about the programme so that they can make it their own, and be the driving force behind it,” said Ms Thandeka Mhlanga, co-founder of Nka’Thuto.

The collaboration between DUT and Nka’thuto will target rural and township schools as it has been identified that these schools face a barrage of challenges, ranging from limited to no resources, poor infrastructure, shortage of teachers, limited resources or poorly equipped educators, as well as lack of exposure to science-related events.

Nka’Thuto’s second co-founder Ms Thulile Khanyile explained that it is through hosting workshops on research science and business principles, in a vibrant and engaging manner that ensures that learners remain engaged, intrigued, and interested.

“They are given hands-on experiences through a customised learning experience, which address their individual learning needs, per project. We do this by equipping them with research skills to enable them to identify science research solutions which can be further developed into business solutions.”

DUT Community Engagement Practitioner, Phumzile Xulu commented that the key areas addressed by this programme are in line with the DUT’s ENVISION2030 which seeks to improve the lives and livelihoods of the communities in and around the university.

“While we will be empowering learners in formerly disadvantaged schools and in rural communities through this collaboration, we will also be planting a seed in the community and the students’ minds that there is a wealth of opportunity for STEAM subjects and careers. Through such programmes we will offer support and career guidance, while also demonstrating that DUT is an engaged university that cares about the community and could be their university of choice in equipping themselves with relevant, strong, recognised qualifications in the science field.”

Speaking at the workshop, one of the postgrad students who has volunteered to join this programme as a facilitator, Mr Khulekani Mavundla, said that it was important for him to be part of such an initiative because he felt that he had not had similar guidance in his childhood years.

“For me participating in this programme is important because I want to give back to the community, but most importantly to the disadvantaged schools. A lot of kids miss out on opportunities just because of their geographical location and circumstances. With this programme we can breach the gap,” he said.

The school visits are set to take off in the second term of the school’s academic calendar.

Pictured: Project Facilitator, Hlengiwe Mthethwa, putting her point across during the workshop.

Khumbuzile Mbuqe

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