The DUT-Nka’Thuto Research and Innovation Programme supports and nurtures high school learners with an interest in innovation, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (iSTEM). The concept was designed by Nka’Thuto Edu Propeller, a non-profit organisation, and in 2022 it was supported by the DUT Community Engagement. The programme actively supports learners with research methodology skills, public speaking skills, computer skills, design thinking, and the commercialisation of research ideas.

The programme took place in the community of Bergville and supported learners in five high schools under the Bergville CMC – Amangwane, Ntathakusa, Tabhane, Thokoza and Tshanibezwe. Staff and postgraduate students from DUT were recruited to mentor the learners about the different aspects of conducting their scientific research projects, presenting the research, and ensuring that the research could be turned into a viable commercialisable product or service.

The programme took place over the span of 6 months and was delivered in a series of workshops and science expositions. In the Final Innovation Expo, 30 learners were selected to present their commercialisable research product or service to a panel of professional innovators, entrepreneurs, and scientists. Before this, the learners were invited to a week-long boot camp where they were mentored on how to refine their research projects and ideas, public speaking, entrepreneurship, and computer skills.

On the 28th of January 2023, DUT Community Engagement hosted a planning and evaluation workshop for the programme at the EMakhosini Boutique Hotel, Morningside. The planning and evaluation workshop sought to provide a platform for reflections and assessments of the Research and Innovation Programme. In attendance were the student and staff mentors of the programme, a representative from Nka’Thuto, and the DUT Community Engagement Team. The workshop was facilitated by the  Engagement Practitioner, Ms Phumzile Xulu.

During the workshop, the participants were invited to share their reflections and opinions on the programme. They provided individual reflections as well as several open group discussions and reflections. The workshop provided a robust conversation on the beauty of the programme, but also provided valuable feedback on how the programme could be strengthened in the future.

Speaking on the strengths of the project, the participants listed aspects such as the programme content, the commitment of the mentors and the level of planning and organisation of the programme. Areas of improvement included increasing the time spent with learners, increasing the level of support to the learners who did not make it to the final stages of the programme and allowing for more spaces and opportunities for mentors to provide suggestions and ideas that could be integrated into the programme.

Overall, the workshop participants awarded the programme an average score of four out of five points. Speaking on her experience of the programme, Ms Rukayat Abiola, a mentor in the programme states, “I never thought that the learners would be so creative and innovative. They are even better than what I could’ve imagined and thought.” Ms Nomalihle Malambule elaborates on her evolution as a mentor throughout the programme, “you grow as a scientist because it encourages you to elevate your thinking.”

The workshop closed with a vote of thanks and appreciation, where the participants were given certificates of participation in the programme. Four of the student mentors, namely Mr Sandile Msimango, Mr Khulekani Mavundla, Mr Lindokuhle Manyoni, and Ms Nombulelo Ndlovu, received special awards for their outstanding commitment to the project. These special awards acknowledged their consistent attendance of workshop sessions with learners, their willingness to assist the learners and their peers, and their commitment to arriving on time for early departures to visit schools.

Ms Phumzile Xulu expanded on the gratitude that Community Engagement had for the programme’s mentors, Nka’Thuto and the project beneficiaries, “I would just like to thank everyone for their commitment and their enthusiasm, we truly appreciate it. We admire the sacrifices that you had to regularly make to support the learners. It was our first year doing this project with Nka’Thuto, and I think our efforts are commendable.”

Picture: The Research and Innovation Programme mentors with their certificates and tokens of appreciation at the planning and evaluation workshop

Tracy Khuzwayo

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