Becoming a ‘trailblazer’ in community engagement is what drives the Durban University of Technology’s (DUT’s) Professor Monique Marks, Director at the Urban Futures Centre (UFC), to show the seriousness of where DUT wants to take community engagement.
The Urban Futures Centre at DUT (UFC@DUT) is based in the Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment. It serves as the central node for a network of projects, institutions, practitioners and academics involved in the future of cities locally and internationally. Supporting the activities of the centre is a concern with the real people who live in cities, and their future.
Prof Marks recently won the first DUT Community Engagement Staff of the Year award for all projects under the Urban Futures Centre, and for initiating and leading mutually beneficial collaborations to service communities.
The Community Engagement Office, under the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research Innovation and Engagement, launched the very first Community Engagement Showcase and Pitching Awards in recognition of projects started by both staff and students. These efforts were meant to establish a baseline of the type of work and engagements taking place in this area aligned to ENVISION 2030 and embedded within the Research, Innovation and Teaching and Learning core functions of the university. It recognises staff who have shown exceptional commitment to community engagement work in the last 12 months.
The Community Engagement Staff of the Year winner, Prof Marks, won for her exceptional collaborations to service communities; also winning a prize money of R10 000.
Speaking on her win, Prof Marks said that she feels that her award is for recognition of her past and present work in communities.
“I think the award was given for being a unique person in community engagement, also to recognise the past and present work in community engagement programmes. I also think it’s not just about me, but the UFC, and we take community engagement seriously; as it’s all about the community engagement component which commonly describes ourselves as engaged scholars who are trying to engage in real world issues, and positive life changes,” she said.
Prof Marks further said that historically, UFC have won a lot for programmes that are known for engagements.
One of her community engagement projects is Kenneth Gardens. The Kenneth Gardens Community Engagement Project was initiated in 2011 by UFC@DUT’s Professor Monique Marks and Dr Kira Erwin. It is the largest municipal housing estate in the city of Durban which provides subsidised housing to approximately 1500 to 1800 individuals. The DUT staff and students from the Homeopathy Department have been running the weekly Wellness Clinic since 2011.
She also spoke of the ‘Bellhaven Harm Reduction Centre’ project in Greyville, Durban. She is part of the team working tirelessly to contain the spread of coronavirus among the homeless in Durban.
Prof Marks is a member of the eThekwini Homeless Task Team which is led by the Deputy Mayor, Belinda Scott. The Task Team brings together a variety of non-state organisations and government officials to respond to the issue of homelessness in eThekwini. Prof Marks is also in charge of the substance use directorate of the Task Team.
“Working with eThekwini, and other NGO’s in running the Bellhaven Harm Reduction Centre project in Greyville, during lockdown to date, clearly got a lot of attention from the university, from media, and across the border communities. To have been given support from a range of organisations has been significant. It’s just a lot of good people doing a lot of good engagement work, so I wasn’t surprised but a little overwhelmed to be given this award. I am really grateful to DUT for recognising community engagement as significant as many universities don’t,” she said.
She further said that a big shout out goes to DUT for organising this event during lockdown as it has been one of the nicer, virtual events that she has been part of.
“DUT is one of few universities that are still engaged because there is that very strong focus on technical and practical skills which does not compromise the outcome from our students,” she said.
Prof Marks said for 2021, she and her team at UFC will continue with their projects, especially with an array of Harm Reduction Services in Greyville. Her next step is to address and try to secure funding from the business communities for this project as it’s costly to run, going forward.
Pictured: DUT’s Professor Monique Marks.
Waheeda Peters and Simangele Zuma