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Witsies part of #InspiringFiftySA

- Wits University

Women’s Month ends on a high note as two female academics make it to the 2019 #InspiringFiftySA list.

Wits academics, Dr Paula Barnard-Ashton and Dr Safiyyah Iqbal are part of 50 South African women named under 2019 #InspiringFiftySA, which celebrate South African women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

#InspiringFiftySA aims to increase diversity in technology by boosting the visibility of female role models in STEM. It is a non-profit initiative that originated in The Netherlands and was brought to South Africa, by former Consul General, Bonnie Horbach in 2017. The #InspiringFiftySA’s mission is to inspire more girls and young women to pursue a career in STEM and they are driven by their motto “if she can see it then she can be it!” 

Dr Paula Barnard-Ashton and-Dr Safiyyah Iqbal at #Inspiring50SA 2019

Barnard-Ashton, Senior Lecturer and Manager of the School of Therapeutic Sciences eFundanathi Team says she is elated to be recognised as one of 50 inspiring South African women who are role models for future generations.  Barnard-Ashton’s passion for improving teaching and learning through technology and digital innovation has brought some accolades to her name. She was in the top three of Learning Idols at the Learning Innovation Africa Conference 2018. In 2017, the eFundanathi Team that she leads won the Vice-Chancellor’s Teaching and Learning Award (team category) in 2017. The team was  acknowledged for its pioneering, excellent work that has had a major impact on teaching and learning. 

She says, as a woman in STEM, she is proud to have led change in her School by contributing to innovative teaching and learning.

“I initially didn’t see myself as doing anything specific to contribute, but I realised that through perseverance and tenacity, that I led to a vast change in the way learning happens within the School of Therapeutic Sciences. I think it is more about showing that women can become leaders and by believing in yourself, you can overcome any naysayer's influence.”

Her research interests are in the role that technology plays in the teaching and learning process in higher education. “There is broad diversity in the academic digital competence of students and lecturers and digital apartheid impacts everyone to a different degree. I focus on bringing the technology into the learning spaces and equipping both the student and the lecturer with the skills to integrate online environments into face-to-face teaching,” she says.

Dr Safiyyah Iqbal, a lecturer in the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences completed her PhD in Evolutionary Studies Institute (ESI) at Wits. In 2018, she was featured in the Mail&Guardian Top 200 list, which profiles young prolific South Africans under the age of 35 years, who are making are a making a positive impact in South Africa through their work. Iqbal was recognised for her work in Science and Technology.

Expressing how she felt about the recognition, Iqbal says, “it is incredible to be a part of this wonderful society of women”.

Her research entails the understanding of functional relationships in the postcranial skeleton by incorporating extant and extinct species. Throughout her postgraduate research, she has explored multidisciplinary approaches to advance the techniques used in functional morphology through a combination of comparative, experimental and digital (computer-based) methodologies.

Iqbal, who describes herself as a “tech freak who loves working on computers”, says she is fascinated by the daily technological advances that can change society and how science can “bring solutions to real world problems”.

As a young Muslim female Scientist, she hopes to inspire and motivate young girls to pursue careers in STEM in an effort to increase visibility of women in these fields.

“There is a lack of female representation in STEM. In society, females are rather discouraged from careers in STEM as it is perceived as a male field and females cannot cope with the challengers that is faced in STEM. By encouraging the younger females to pursue their passion in STEM, we can close that gender gap proving that we are more than capable of being in STEM, that we belong.”