On Friday, 23 July 2021, the University’s Faculty of Science, Engineering and Agriculture’s Biochemistry and Microbiology Department held a Protein Biochemistry and Malaria (ProBioM) research group reunion event. ProBioM is led by Prof. Addmore Shonhai, interim Chair of the Biochemistry & Microbiology Department. This reunion event was held on Microsoft Teams.
Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Agriculture, Prof Ntebogeng Mokgalaka-Fleischmann, gave the keynote address and thanked the team for organising the reunion event. She enlightened attendees on the 2021-2025 strategic plan. She further highlighted the transformation that is currently taking place at UNIVEN. Prof Mokgalaka-Fleischmann told the gathering that whatever their stations, their conduct impacts on UNIVEN’s reputation and as alumni their actions should always be marked by high levels of work integrity and ethics.
Prof Mokgalaka-Fleischmann mentioned that she was impressed by the objectives of the meeting which sought to afford former UNIVEN students the opportunity to give feedback on their career progress. “Carry the badge of the University with you, we also depend on you to enhance the University’s corporate identity as brand ambassadors. We further aim to be a University leading in engaged scholarship.” In her response after hearing their experiences, Prof Mokgalaka-Fleischmann said she was impressed by what
Prof Shonhai is doing and encouraged him to do more as his work is placing the University of Venda on the local and international platforms. “We can see the fruits of Prof Shonhai ‘s work. Our alumni are today flying the University of Venda’ s flag high at other institutions of higher learning. This Faculty is in good hands, and I am confident and happy to have staff members like Prof Shonhai.”
In his response, Prof Addmore Shonhai, said his biggest focus is to prepare students to do well in the world of work. “As a research group, our focus is to study heat shock proteins and their role in supporting malaria parasites. We are one of the earliest groups to study these proteins and have had the privilege to name some of them. As part of our contributions and that of others, the field has now grown to the point where these proteins are being targeted as part of antimalarial drug discovery efforts.’’
“As part of my early career phase, I had the opportunity to work in both the pharmaceutical production industry and biotechnology (vaccine research) field. This early experience endowed me with technical skills which I make an effort to pass to my students.” Prof Shonhai took them through his career path until to date. He gave them words of encouragement by also motivating them, highlighting his international recognition and awards, amongst them, a prestigious Alexander von Humboldt and research award amounting to around €500 000 secured from the GRF (Germany Research Foundation) from 2009-2018. Prof Shonhai joined UNIVEN in 2014. He was instrumental in resuscitating this Department and supervised the first PhD and Masters students to graduate from the Department. He highlighted that launching a career in science within a resource constrained setting is not an easy undertaking. He recalled that when he joined the Department nearly all its lab equipment were obsolete. “But today, the Biochemistry Unit has state of the art equipment worth several millions of rands. My passion is to empower previously disadvantaged students. We need to train students to attain a standard that allows them to be globally competitive. If we do a good job, we get a lot in return as academics since the good reputation of our graduates certainly speaks well of us out there.”
He said he was overwhelmed by the words of encouragement from Prof Mokgalaka-Fleischmann and his colleagues in the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Agriculture. “I would like to encourage colleagues to invest in student training and to organise workshops to hear from them long after they would have joined the work world. This provides us with the opportunity to assess the impact the students within the work setting.”
Former UNIVEN students were given an opportunity to share their academic journey on how they started as students and how they are doing so far. In all their presentations, these UNIVEN alumni also presented their experiences in ProBioM and how this shaped their current career stations. Among those who presented were Dr Xolani Makhoba, senior lecturer, University of Fort Hare, Dr Tawanda Zininga, lecturer, Stellenbosch University, Dr Adelle Burger, senior lecturer,(University of Venda), Ms Simakeleng Monyai, PhD candidate, University of Pretoria, Dr Stanely Makumire, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Cape Town, Dr Graham Chakafana, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Cape Town, and Mr Tendamudzimu Dongola, part-time lecturer and MSc student, UNIVEN. Dr. Graham Chakafana highlighted that he was recently awarded a 4-year postdoctoral fellowship by the prestigious, and ivy league member institution, Stanford University of the USA. This testifies to the growing stock of UNIVEN graduates at the international scene. The event was also characterised by a question and answer session that facilitated interaction between current and previous students of the group.
Former Dean of School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences, Prof Natasha Potgieter said it was good to see staff members and alumni of the University doing well, putting the name of the University on the map. She noted that the University of Venda is creating future leaders who are determined to put the University on the national and international arena.
In her welcome remarks Dr Adelle Burger pointed out that the reunion event sought to bring current and previous students of the group towards encouraging the current students to take up careers in science as well as to motivate them to keep focussed as they embark on their studies.
Dr Ntakadzeni Madala, a senior lecturer and acclaimed researcher in his own right, gave a vote of thanks. In his vote of thanks message, Dr Madala congratulated the group that was put together by Prof Shonhai. He highlighted that Prof Shonhai is a hard-working colleague who is always determined to do the best for his students. He further indicated that thanks to Prof. Shonhai’s commitment to the Biochemistry unit has tremendously improved with respect to research resources and student training. “Now UNIVEN has its footprints in notable local and international universities.” He congratulated Prof Shonhai and encouraged him to continue serving students as this is a sure way to develop them into useful citizens.
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Date: 29 July 2021