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A project involving MIT students on Unisa’s Science Campus

Two Electrical Engineering and Computer Science students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are visiting Unisa to work on a project that involves the Central University of Technology (CUT) and the Durban University of Technology (DUT). Nailah Smith (19) and Nadia Waid (19) travelled all the way from Atlanta, Georgia and Des Moines, Iowa to make an impact in South Africa.

The MIT-Africa and South African Universities Program is targeted at universities of technology and the historically disadvantaged universities. Its aim is to assist these universities to:

  • Educate for impact by directing pedagogy towards more problem-solving techniques
  • Create an ecosystem for technology innovation that can attract
  • private-sector participation
  • Increase the number of skills in the techno-entrepreneurship world
  • Promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in the country
  • Strengthen collaboration with other African countries who are part
  • of the MIT-Africa Program

The programme has six initiatives, namely:

1.   To bring MIT students to South Africa during the US summer (June to August) to work with local students and researchers on a funded project

2.   To conduct Global Start-Up Lab Entrepreneurship Workshops for students, faculties and tech entrepreneurs

3.   To include the identified South African Universities in the World Education Lab program

4.   Providing short courses in problem-solving approaches

5.   Collaborating in Additive and Digital Advanced Production Technologies programs

6.   Offering faculty fellowships for the South African universities to spend a semester or a year at MIT

Nailah and Nadia are working on a project to build an Educational Radio Interferometer (ERI). The ERI is a project conceived by Prof Lerothodi Leeuw and Dr Patrice Okouma, who are a professor in Astrophysics and a postdoctoral fellow in the College of Graduate Studies at Unisa, respectively. The implementation of the project is a multidisciplinary and multi-university endeavour by students in Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at Unisa, CUT and DUT. Its purpose is to assist in the teaching of STEM subjects at the higher primary, high school and undergraduate university levels, and as such, it plays a role in enhancing research in astrophysics and science education in general. The ERI is funded by ACSeedE, the Seed and Growth Engine of Admond Capital (Pty) Limited (Admond Capital).

The MIT-Africa and South African Universities Program is coordinated in South Africa by the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Admond Capital and the Head of ACSeedE, Mr Simphiwe Duma, and Prof Hazel Sive at MIT. Mr Duma approached Prof Leeuw with the idea of a project that can attract private-sector funding, because they were both undergraduates at MIT some two decades ago.

The idea is to assist universities to create a framework to attract private-sector funding, whilst building a strong ecosystem for technology innovation and entrepreneurship. It is early days for the project, and Mr Duma has asked all the participants to learn and grow together in order to have more such projects in the future. Mr Duma is working closely with Mr Ayanda Noma, the Director of Innovation, Technology Transfer and Commercialisation, to create a long-term framework for the partnership with Unisa.

On 13 June, their first day at Unisa, Nailah and Nadia were warmly welcomed by Prof Thenjiwe Meyiwa, Vice-Principal of Research, Postgraduate Studies, Innovation and Commercialisation at Florida campus, where they were also welcomed by the director of the School of Engineering, Prof Bhekisipho Twala, Dr Sumbwanyambe Mbuyu from Electrical Engineering and Mr Kokisa Phorah from the Computer Sciences Department. They will leave for CUT and DUT in July and come back to wrap up their project in August before they return to MIT.


* By Thembeka Ntuli Mpapama, Communication and Marketing Specialist: College of Science, Engineering and Technology

Publish date: 2019-09-19 00:00:00.0