by Sanele Msiza

Prestigious fellowship gives the nod to Witsies for excellence in science research.

Two Wits University students have been awarded a prestigious fellowship and research grant by multinational conglomerate L’Oreal in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Harshna Jivan, who specialises in nuclear physics, and Olaperi Okuboyejo, a computer scientist, were awarded the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Africa Regional Programme Fellowship at a private ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya.

Harshna Jivan (right) receiving her award at the ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Provided.

“I was rather ecstatic when I received the news that I was one of the fellows selected. It feels great to be recognised for the hard work that I have put in to my studies thus far,” Jivan told Wits Vuvuzela.

“I knew that receiving this fellowship would provide me with the platform to share my research interests with people in different fields to me. And the fellowship grant will be very useful in boosting my future career in nuclear physics,” she added.

Okuboyeju said she felt honoured to have been awarded the fellowship and grant.

“The award has put me on a higher pedestal for more recognition and sponsorship in my research,” Okuboyeju said.

Okuboyeju’s application for the fellowship was supported by her supervisor, Professor Sigrid Ewert of the Wits School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics.
Ewert highlighted the historic significance of the award.

“Olaperi is the second student from computer science at Wits to receive this award. She follows in the footsteps of Dr Mpho Raborife who is now senior lecturer at the University of Johannesburg. If a student receives such an award, it means that not only the student, but also many staff members, both academic and support, must have done something right many times.”

Each of the women will receive a research grant of over R80 000 which Jivan said would help her conduct research with scientists from all over the world.

“The grant awarded will help me with travel expenses so that I can work more directly with some of our international collaborators. The exposure and training that I can receive from participating in experiments in laboratories across the globe will aid in my knowledge growth and will be a great boost to my future career as a researcher in physics,” Jivan said.

The fellowship aims to empower young, female African researchers and to increase their visibility in the hope of creating role models for young women keen on pursuing a career in science. Jivan and Okuboyeju are among 12 recipients out of more than 480 applicants from countries including South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria.