UP EBIT Week shows increasing number of female learners interested in STEM subjects

Posted on July 25, 2023

The recent EBIT Week 2023, hosted by the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology (EBIT), drew three times as many female learners to its four-day holiday programme as it did during the 2021 EBIT Week. According to the Faculty, this reflects an increasing awareness of and appetite for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) academic disciplines among female learners who attended from high schools across the country.

EBIT Week is a four-day holiday programme presented biannually to give prospective students in Grade 10, 11, and 12 exposure to all the programmes and facilities offered by the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology at UP. One of the highlights of the programme are its featured industry visits, which allow learners to experience possible future workplaces.

“It was exciting to see 125 girls from various backgrounds, including some of the most rural and remote parts of the country, among the group of 387 learners who raised their hands and said, ‘I want to pursue a career in the STEM academic disciplines, so I need to find out what the University of Pretoria has to offer me,’” EBIT chief marketing and communication officer Estie Powell said.

High school learners in a lecture hall at UP's EBIT Week

125 girls from various backgrounds, including some of the most rural and remote parts of the country, were among the group of 387 learners who attended EBIT Week 2023.

“We always try to raise awareness, particularly among female learners, because getting more females into STEM is an important drive for us. We know that programmes like industrial and systems engineering and materials science and metallurgical engineering are great for females. Nozipho Dlamini, a mining engineer and UP alumnus, became the first woman president of the South African Colliery Managers’ Association in 2022, and a member of the University’s Mining Engineering Advisory Board, and she is a great role model for women in mining. Everything is digital now. You do not need to go underground if that is your choice; the technology is there for you to play your role differently.”

The learners arrived at UP’s Hatfield Campus on Sunday, 9 July, and departed on Wednesday, 12 July. They explored informative programmes for engineering, IT, and architecture, and experienced what it’s like being a UP student while living in its student accommodations. They attended presentations and were taken on lab visits to allow them to note that UP has the same modern technology used by companies in the industry. They also visited companies including the BMW Group South Africa, BBD Software, DSV Healthcare, Etion Create, and Eskom, and enjoyed evening group activities coordinated by senior UP students, who provided mentorship and answered their questions.

“What is brilliant about EBIT Week, which is different from the Open Day, is that we acknowledge that you may want to study civil engineering, but we offer you the opportunity to be exposed to all the disciplines, including mechanical engineering. We do not just send you to civil engineering, we send you to every field, including mechanical and electrical, electronic and computer engineering,” Powell added. “We have seen many learners change their minds after realising that something else is more aligned with their interests and personalities. That is why we are so grateful for mining and renewable energy company Exxaro, who partnered with us and sponsored 69 learners from rural and remote schools.”

Grade 10 learners Buhle Mokoena (15) and Ntokozo Makhubu (15) from Buhleng Secondary School in Mpumalanga were among the girls who found a new love for mining at the end of EBIT Week. “This experience has exposed me to a different side of mining I could not even imagine,” Makhubu said. “I only thought of mining as hard labour and the risk of going underground, but it is much greater than that. I saw that it was the kind of work that would excite me and fuel me to wake up every morning. We see that girls have an important role to play in STEM-related careers. I cannot wait to get to matric so that I can apply to study at UP.”

“This experience has influenced my career decision a lot,” said Grade 11 learner Subhadra Naidoo (16) from Treverton College in Mooi River, KwaZulu-Natal. “Initially, I wanted to study psychology, but more in the IT application of psychology in the world. But looking at what this experience gave me, I have decided to pursue a degree in information technology and combine it with psychology as a subject. I recommend EBIT Week to others because the experience was very knowledgeable and empowering about what to expect at university and the workplace. And apart from that, it also had fun elements that included interactive activities.”

Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology Professor Wynand Steyn said, “We value the support of parents and industry partners in their collaborative efforts to give access to female learners to programmes such as EBIT Week, which inspire innovation towards their future career aspirations in STEM.”

- Author James Mahlokwane

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