These young women and their mentor Dr Marilyn Govender, Natural Resources Manager at the South African Sugar Association, recently held an inaugural annual gathering to share ideas, experiences, motivate each other and reflect on the journey travelled so far. These bright young women in science also shared their ambitions from furthering their postgraduate studies to starting up their own consulting firms. Their professional interests range from environmental management and consulting, natural resource conservation, sustainable development, rural development and climate change. Four young women have been given the opportunity to be part of this programme. Three of them were placed in permanent positions at various companies after they had completed their internship.
Under the guidance and mentorship of Dr Govender, the programme came into existence in 2013 to provide an opportunity to young women with an undergraduate or a postgraduate in environmental science or natural science or sustainable energy to gain work experience. Natural Resources is a broad discipline which has seen participants from a variety of academic backgrounds. Some of these qualifications include degrees in environmental management, microbiology, geography and advanced earth sciences. The duration of the internship is one year and was designed to ensure that participants are more equipped for the working environment once the internship has been completed.
The natural resources intern is required to assist their mentor through various tasks which include report writing and other administrative work that will provide real life experience of how coursework is applied in the real work environment. The intern also takes part in a variety of mini-projects which include engagement with stakeholders, exposing them to a range of topics and building up their confidence in the work place. Graduates also have the opportunity to assist other departments within the External Affairs Division under which the department falls, thereby learning how to work in a team and improving their planning and communication skills.
Nomzamo Mkhize was the first graduate to be part of the internship and was involved in the formulation of the SASA ‘Legal Pocket Guide’. She remembers how knowledge of legal compliance became useful in her current job as a SHEQ Officer at SASRI, as she was able to do legal compliance audit for SHEQ management with more understanding. Nomzamo highlighted how tasks helped her grow her knowledge in various topics such as water use licensing and even becoming confident in other skills such as being an English-to-Zulu translator.
Bukelwa Nzimande, initially with a microbiology background, had her initial exposure to the environmental field from being part of the internship. Her interests became clearer after she was involved in various projects, even taking part in the formulation SASA’s ‘Burning Codes of Practice’, which motivated her to further her studies focusing more on the environmental sector. She learned how to conduct herself professionally and confidently, learning to always expand her views and knowledge wherever possible. Currently an IDEX Fellow in a social enterprise fellowship programme in India, Bukelwa is truly grateful for the opportunities and learnings which the internship programme provided.
Nozipho Mkhwanazi highlighted the benefits of working under supportive mentorship that allowed her to grow professionally and personally. Now as an Environmental Officer at Kusini Environmental Services, she gives all credit to the solid foundation provided by the internship where she learned independence, how to engage professionally with stakeholders, confidence and the ability to write high level reports. Her involvement with the ‘Water Allocation Reform’ project allowed her to grow in other learning areas which include the use of Gegraphic Information Systems. Hoping to start up her own environmental consulting firm one day, Nozipho plans to further her studies and do her Master’s degree in the near future.
Samukelisiwe Maphumulo is the current intern who in eight months has fully experienced the transition from university into the working environment. She has been able to grow and develop professional and social skills that are required in the work environment through motivation, support, opportunities and guidance from her mentor. Samukelisiwe’s learnings include being able to: develop her writing skills; understand the importance of producing quality work on time; improve on note-taking and report writing; as well as see first-hand the importance of networking. Motivated by her predecessors, Sam plans to further her studies and to gain environmental consulting experience at a consultancy company.