Professor Michael Savage of the Discipline of Agrometeorology in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) this year celebrated 40 years of teaching and conducting research at UKZN.

Savage, whose career at the Institution started at the then University of Natal in 1977, has been responsible for the development of all the Agrometeorology course content at UKZN. A passionate and empathetic teacher, he is the recipient of UKZN’s 2014 Distinguished Teacher Award (DTA) and also a fellowship from the University in 1996. He received the Council of Higher Education and Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of South Africa national teaching excellence award in 2015.

Savage’s research focus is on topics such as adverse weather, biometeorology, energy balance of various surfaces, micrometeorology and open water evaporation. He developed a unique Agrometeorological Instrumentation Mast (AIM) web-based data and information teaching, learning and research system for the agro-environmental sciences. The AIM system is used by many undergraduates and postgraduates and features real-time data for a number of agrometeorological measurements provided by instruments set up around campus, which can be viewed and downloaded for use in research and as a visual teaching aid. It has also led to the publication of papers in local and international journals.

Savage has also initiated the creation of an isiZulu-English glossary of terms for Agrometeorology to counter the language barrier to learning experienced by many second language English speakers entering university in South Africa. He emphasises the use of live data, visual literacy, technology and glossaries to stimulate growth in the isiZulu language’s capacity for scientific understanding.

He believes that technology can play an important role in learning, and identifies the importance of visual literacy or “iconic” learning to transcend cultural and linguistic barriers. He is keen to see scientific societies contribute to the creation of technical dictionaries in traditional African languages to stimulate equal knowledge transfer.

Savage and his colleagues include an intensive computer literacy training element in their second-year practical sessions, leading to a marked improvement in students’ skills, development and eventual marketability as employees.

‘Teaching is about imparting more than just knowledge; it is also about life skills,’ said Savage.

Despite being one of the most highly qualified academics at the University, in 2014 Savage graduated with a cum laude master’s degree. (Publication in an international journal in 1979 had enabled him to convert his masters then to a PhD).

Savage was the first recipient of UKZN’s Doctor of Science in Agriculture degree in 2010.

Savage continues to arrange various workshops for the training of academics, scientists and practitioners across the country, and is actively involved in making science relevant and comprehensible to the public.

After 40 years at the University, Savage remains enthusiastic and passionate about his subject and still pursues innovative research and dedicates time to training.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Michael Savage