The first all-female Wits Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) cohort has returned home after attending a month long research programme in America.

FIVE Witsies moved a step closer to achieving their goals of attaining PhDs as they took part in a rigorous research training and skills development programme, sponsored by the university’s Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF).

Elekeana Nyirenda, 22, Khensane Ledwaba, 21, Venolia Rabodiba, 21, Elishua Ngoma, 23, and Mmanape Hlungwane, 21, are third-year Bachelor of Arts General students who made up this year’s first all-female cohort of the MMUF.

POWER TO THE FIVE: This year’s Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship cohort.                             Photo: Juniour Khumalo


The women undertook a month-long research programme at Bowdoin College, USA, from June 17 to July 23.

MMUF selects exceptional students in the second year of BA General studies, to participate in the programme that seeks to address the serious shortage of faculty of colour in higher education. The goal is to diversify the professoriate from being middle aged, white male dominated, to reflecting the diverse races making up the academic space.

Dr Nompumelelo Bhengu, the programme’s Wits coordinator, emphasised the importance of having an all-female team, saying, it “added a new dimension to the programme, the research they are embarking on challenges the mostly male-dominated academic space”.

She said that each student selected a field of interest of their own choice and were then assisted in the process of refining their research topic.

“From the Wits cohort, three of the five ladies are perusing research in the department of linguistics. Their topics range from problematising the issue of language policies and what role these policies play in terms of student success to research, looking into the computerisation of indigenous languages,” Dr Bhengu said.

These students who are already showing potential for pursuing postgraduate studies are then assisted with funding towards their studies and provided with mentorship from faculty members within their fields of interest.

The month-long programme culminated in a formal round table presentation at Bowdoin on July 19, in which the students shared their experiences of learning about research. “The experience was exciting and yet overwhelming at the same time,” said Ledwaba.

All five Witsies say they will continue to refine their research topics for their postgraduate studies and are determined to pursue PhDs in the future.

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