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UKZN’s STEM MentHER Programme Grows from Strength to Strength

The 2023 UKZN STEM MentHER cohort of mentees and mentors.

UKZN’s STEM MentHER Programme Grows from Strength to Strength

STEM MentHER has established itself as a beacon of empowerment for young women interested in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Since the launch of the UKZN Chapter in 2023, the programme has continued to flourish, providing invaluable mentorship and support to aspiring female students.

The genesis of STEM MentHER at UKZN can be traced back to the vision of Dr Cerene Rathilal, a lecturer in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science. Collaborating with the National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Sciences (NiTheCS) and UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, Rathilal, along with colleagues, Dr Yaseera Ismail and Dr Chevarra Hansraj, launched the UKZN chapter of this national STEM outreach programme at the beginning of 2023.

STEM MentHER is designed to address gender disparity in STEM fields by offering mentorship and guidance to young female learners aspiring to pursue careers in these domains. By pairing mentees with experienced female academics and postgraduate students during their final year of high school, the programme aims to empower them by providing career and study guidance and nurturing their academic and professional growth.

With the recent release of the 2023 Matric results, STEM MentHER hosted a celebratory event to honour the achievements of its inaugural Grade 12 learner cohort. At the occasion, Rathilal congratulated the students on their excellent matric results and expressed her gratitude to the mentors whose unwavering support has been instrumental in the programme’s success.

Mentees such as Ms Maia Lucie Klijnstra, Ms Zaahira Khan, Ms Akeesha Maharaj and Ms Rejente’ Dorasamy shared heartfelt testimonials, acknowledging their mentors’ profound impact on their academic journey thus far. These students, who achieved a host of A symbols between them, have all registered for STEM degrees at UKZN, while some of their fellow mentees have opted to pursue their studies at other tertiary institutions. Whatever their university of choice, the girls will continue to be mentored by their chosen UKZN mentors as they embark on their individual study choices.

‘Through mentorship, these young women not only excelled academically but also gained confidence and inspiration to pursue their dreams,’ said Rathilal.

As STEM MentHER enters its second year at UKZN, a call has gone out for 2024 applicants. Rathilal encouraged teachers and principals to nominate deserving Grade 12 female students who exhibit passion and potential in STEM disciplines. ‘Successful candidates will benefit from expert mentorship, tailored programmes and membership of a vibrant community of aspiring female scientists and engineers,’ she said.

UKZN also invited high school students and undergraduates to the International Day of Mathematics held on 9 March. Organised by the Future Mathematicians Programme, of which UKZN is a proud partner, ‘this exciting online programme offered a unique opportunity to celebrate the beauty and relevance of mathematics in our lives,’ said Rathilal.

Words: Sally Frost
Photograph: Supplied