04 February 2020 | Story Leonie Bollleurs | Photo Supplied
Collage proffies
From left; Dr Alice Brink; Dr Oliver Nyambi and Dr Sandy-Lynn Steenhuisen.

The UFS is committed to continuing its support to ensure that they develop their potential excellence to become future world leaders in their respective disciplines. These were the words of Vice-Rector: Research, Prof Corli Witthuhn, in support of three of the University of the Free State’s (UFS) young scholars selected for the prestigious DHET Future Professors Programme.

Drs Sandy-Lynn Steenhuisen, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Plant Sciences (UFS Qwaqwa Campus); Oliver Nyambi, Senior Lecturer in the Department of English (UFS Qwaqwa Campus); and Alice Brink, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry (UFS Bloemfontein Campus), were selected for the first cohort in the programme. 

Prof Witthuhn states: “The university is very proud to have three of our young academics selected for the national Future Professors Programme. All three of these outstanding researchers have Y1 ratings from the National Research Foundation (NRF), reflecting the quality of their research and the significant international recognition they enjoy. Being part of the programme presents these three colleagues with a fantastic opportunity for further professional development.”

Investment in future SA professoriate

This prestige programme is an initiative of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) to invest in the future South African professoriate. According to Prof Jonathan Jansen, Project Leader: DHET Future Professors Programme, the selection process was both rigorous and highly competitive in producing the cohort for this programme. 

Nominations were received from 26 universities and only 29 candidates were selected for what Prof Jansen describes as “a strong and cohesive college of future South African scholars”.

Knowing how few academics were chosen, Dr Steenhuisen describes her selection as both scary and exciting, and a complete surprise. 

“I am hoping to learn from others’ experiences and academic journeys, and that the programme will give me focus and direction in a strong promotional track. I never thought one of my ambitions would be to become a professor, but through mentorship and other initiatives like this programme, I can see it becoming a reality with the right guidance.”

She also dreams of seeing young academics discover the most awesome phenomena in nature under her guidance. Dr Steenhuisen hopes to inspire undergraduate students to see the world through different eyes, letting the wonder of the natural diversity around them give them hope.

Opportunity for international exposure

Dr Nyambi, currently an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow in Germany since 2018, says he cherishes the international placement part of this programme. “I know what an opportunity like this means in terms of the quality of engagements, collaborations, and even funding that comes with such international exposure. The programme also presents an exciting opportunity for networking, sharing, learning, and peer-reviewing with some of South Africa’s best scholars.”

Dr Nyambi believes that the UFS is investing much in the development of its scholars. He states: “I see the selection as attesting to the immense potential of the campus to produce highly rated scholars who can improve the quality of both research and graduates at the UFS. I have benefited a lot from various efforts by the university to enhance the research capacity and profile of the campus, and I believe that more such prestigious accolades are in store for researchers on the campus.

As an academic, he believes that teaching, motivating, and instilling a zeal in students on the Qwaqwa Campus to reach beyond their previously disadvantaged backgrounds, comes with a huge challenge. “Becoming what I want my students to aspire to, puts me in a good stead to influence them,” he says. 

Dr Brink feels it is a great honour to be selected for this competitive programme. “The inputs and advice from the academic leaders in this fellowship will be valued, particularly as researchers such as myself need to obtain a balance between research excellence, finding solutions for current world problems, while also striving to explore uncharted waters within my field of chemistry,” she says.

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