Scientists receive global recognition for role in education
Two scientists of the North-West University (NWU) were recently honoured for their contribution to the development of scientific educational learning material and the training of postgraduate students.
A veteran scientist, Prof Jan Smit, currently the manager of the Science Centre on the Potchefstroom Campus, received the award from the World Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS).
Prof Alta Schutte received the award as outstanding young scientist in sub-Saharan Africa for her training, mentoring and development of postgraduate students in various disciplines to address the challenges Africa is facing.
They received the awards during a Science Forum of the regional office of sub-Saharan Africa (TWAS-ROSSA) in Pretoria. Approximately 1 500 scientists and technologists from 45 countries attended the occasion.
Smit received recognition for his long career as educator in Mathematics and Science.
In a brief statement by TWAS, his professional career was divided into three phases:
First he was a teacher in Mathematics and Physical Sciences for about seven years where he learnt to teach for understanding.
His second phase wat the nearly twenty years at the NWU. His research field was Nuclear Physics and he taught Physics to university students at all levels. This research and teaching led to his deep understanding of the fundamentals of physics and the practical skill to construct and execute experiments.
Smit’s last phase of his career started in 1990 where he could apply his science teaching and applied knowledge and skills from the previous two phases. The result was the upgrading of the qualifications of about 1 300 Science and Mathematics educators in the Sediba project.
As trustee of the Hexagon Trust he also ensured that more than 300 students received bursaries for undergraduate studies in the sciences, Information Technology, Engineering or Accountancy. He also raised more than R43 million in funds from external sources for Sediba and the Hexagon students.
Apart from this role he is also the supervisor for various master’s degree and doctoral students. His objective is to identify jewels in the field of science and shape and polish them for the future. The result of his dedication ensured that some of these students are currently leaders in their field and that some of them are in top management positions.
Smit is very humble about the award and says that he feels gratified by the award. “Thank you to everyone who participated in making this possible. One cannot achieve or do everything alone. All the glory to God who placed me in this position.”
However, he said he feels that his task is not yet completed. “Much still has to be done.”
Schutte is a professor in Physiology and also the incumbent of the SARChI research chair for the early detection and prevention of cardiovascular illness in South Africa of the Department of Science and Technology (DST). She is also the director of the Medical Research Council’s unit that focuses on hypertension and cardiovascular illnesses.
The HART research focuses on the identification of early markers for the development of hypertension and the ultimately the prevention of cardiovascular disease in the black South African population.
Schutte has published more than 140 articles, mainly in international journals. Her research was also recognised with an award as Distinguished Young Women Scientist in the Life Sciences presented by the DST, the British Association Medal of the Southern African Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as the Meiring Naudé medal of the Royal Society of South Africa and the AU-TWAS National Young Scientist Award.