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Wits’ shining stars celebrated

- Wits University

Professor Adam Habib, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal conferred awards to exceptional staff members at the University.

Excellence, dedication, innovation and positive impact were buzzing words at the 2020 Vice-Chancellor’s (VC’s) Awards. These were the last awards that Habib made as outgoing Vice-Chancellor.

The annual VC’s Awards, a highlight of the Wits calendar, celebrate and honour staff members who have excelled in their duties and made a positive impact within the University and beyond. These awards recognise academic and, professional and administrative staff members who have flown the Wits flag high by contributing to its successes. The Awards, with monetary prizes, seek to appreciate efforts of hard working and outstanding individuals and to motivate all staff members.

The 2020 Awards, which were held conjunction with the Habib’s farewell, took place on Saturday, 5 December at the VC’s residence in Savernake.

Awards were made in eight different categories including the VC’s Professional and Administrative Awards; VC’s Teaching Awards (Individual and Team); VC’s Academic Citizenship Awards (Individual and Team); VC’s Innovation Award; VC’s Social Impact Award and VC’s Research Award.

Winners of the 2020 Vice-Chancellors Awards

VC’s Professional and Administrative Staff (PAS) Awards

Known as the VC’s Service Excellence Awards, or PAS Award, these longstanding awards reward staff members across various grades who have rendered services to the University community with excellence. They are judged according to innovativeness, accountability, reliability, their dependability and quality of their services.

Mapule Dorcas Nhlapho, from the Faculty of Health Sciences won the PAS award in the Grades 10 – 13 category. She was recognised for her role as a Biomedical Informatics Officer where she provides critical technical support to over 5 000 researchers and fieldworkers using the electronic platform REDCap in the Faculty. Nhlapho also helps to coordinate and organise tasks for the biomedical team, and is a constant uplifting influence on her colleagues.

Gabriele Mohale and Deborah Minors, were joint winners in the Grades 7 – 9 category. Mohale, an Archivist from the Wits Historical Papers was celebrated for her deep interest in her work, especially the delivery of service that meets client needs. Mohale paid close attention to best practices in archival administration and adherence to legal obligations, ethics, accountability and accepted professional standards. She excelled in ensuring that the custodial boundaries of the University in respect of different Historical Papers deposits were kept within reasonable limits.

Minors, from the Wits Communications Department is a committed, loyal Witsie who exudes Wits’ values and who always prioritises the interests of the University above all else. She goes beyond the call of duty to fly the Wits flag high and can be relied upon to stand on the frontline if called upon to do so. Her positive disposition, her thirst for excellence and her willingness to share her knowledge and skills to empower others makes her a valuable member of staff and society. As a Senior Communications Officer, she is responsible for making Wits’ research visible in the public sphere, for editing the Curios.ty magazine, for managing media enquiries, for managing major health sciences (and other) multimedia publicity campaigns, and for developing Wits’ style guide and other regular publications. In her other roles, she voluntarily represents Wits Advancement at the provincial and national level as regional chair of the Marketing, Advancement and Communications in Education Board.

The winners in this category each win a cash prize of R10 000.

VC’s Teaching Awards

These awards were conferred in two categories, an individual and a team award. The VC’s Teaching Awards recognises staff members who showcase excellence in teaching and the promotion of learning with the aim of stimulating teaching and teaching-related scholarly and/or creative activities.

The winner of the individual award was Dr Lizelle Crous, a lecturer in the Wits Department of Nursing Education. She completed her master’s in nursing education in 2014 and excelled in her understanding of curriculum development and design, which lead her to design a fully blended learning module that will be implemented in the newly revised undergraduate nursing curriculum. She has become an integral driver of the development and accreditation of the new concept based nursing curriculum as well as the planned fully online BHSc Nursing Systems Science degree to allow college certified nurses access to specialty degrees. Crous’ excellence in teaching resulted in the Department identifying her as the ideal candidate to take over the lecturing of the postgraduate coursework. Crous was recognised for her leadership and modelling of good online teaching and learning, which, ensured that the Department of Nursing Education was well prepared in the process of rapidly transitioning to online learning in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Agata MacGregor and Susan Benvenuti from the Wits Business School were winners of the VC’s team Teaching Award. The duo was recognised for their student orientated assessment, which aided students with critical thinking. In 2015, MacGregor registered for the Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education and wanted to use what she had learned to better equip her students with critical thinking and problem solving skills. Consequently, in 2016 she introduced a student orientated assessment to her Advanced Specialised Liability Insurance honours course and have been adapting it every year with the feedback received from the students.  Benvenuti was part of the advisory team on the initial design of the PGDipHE when it was first introduced at Wits. She was asked to mentor candidates and worked with MacGregor to conceptualise her initial assessment task and to evaluate and critique it afterwards. The initial iteration provided some very interesting outcomes and they pursued it as a research project, undertaking evaluations and making changes and adjustments in accordance with the assessment literature.

MacGregor and Benvenuti are working on a number of publications relating to student-orientated assessment. They won R100 000 for the team award.

VC’s Academic Citizenship Awards

A team and an individual award were conferred for the VC Academic Citizenship Award, which seeks to acknowledge and reward academic staff who have made substantial and innovative contributions to one or more of the communities within which they are involved, such as the University, faculty, division, and social, national or international community relevant to their discipline.

Dr Karin Joubert from the School of Human and Community Development in the Faculty of Humanities, won the individual VC’s Academic Citizenship Award. She was celebrated for making hearing health more accessible in underserved rural communities. Joubert had the opportunity to collaborate with the Ndlovu Care Group (NCG) to make comprehensive community-based audiological services available to the community served by NCG. The project was aligned to the Rural Advancement Plan of the NCG that pre-empts incapacity, morbidity and mortality, whilst simultaneously enhancing the community through programmes that facilitate future orientation and social transformation.

The team award was conferred to the Student Equity and Talent Management Unit (SETMU) lead by Dr Zena Richards, Director of the Unit. Other team members include Arthee Roopnarain (Senior Project Programme Co-ordinator); Ashne Billings (Project Researcher);  Daniel Chosi (Bookkeeper); Jonathan Sampson (Administrative Assistant); Linah Sesheba (Project Researcher); Magabjane Makoba (Senior Project Officer Coordinator) and Malesela Lamola (Finance Manager Projects and Assets Officer).

SETMU, winners of the 2020 VC’s Academic Citizenship  Team Award: Linah Sesheba, Dr Zena Richards, Daniel Chosi and Arthee Roopnarain

SETMU was celebrated for their Targeting Talent Programme (TTP), which has been running since 2007. The purpose of the three-year enrichment programme for grade 10 to 12 learners is to promote the holistic development of learners from socially and economically underserved schools in order to substantially increase their chances of gaining access to, and succeeding at university. Unlike many other initiatives in South Africa that focus primarily on helping learners achieve the marks that they need for university entrance, TTP helps learners develop their self-efficacy, self-regulation, personal goals, and a range of important life skills and thinking and reasoning capabilities. While learners are supported to attain good mathematics and science marks, more importantly, they develop insight and understanding in those and other subjects, as well as the ability to monitor their own learning, an important skill in achieving success as a university student.

VC’s Innovation Award

Introduced in 2019, the VC’s Innovation Award, worth a monetary prize of R275 000, recognises excellence in innovation based on the University’s research output. The award identifies an innovation with positive impact that has progressed to a point where there are tangible prospects of such impact. The recipient of the 2020 Innovation Award was Professor Willie Cronje and his team, for their PeCo grid system innovation. Cronje, Head of the Future Electrical Engineering Technology research group in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering, led the development of the innovation for several years, and in 2019 took time from his sabbatical to establish PeCo Power (Pty) Ltd in partnership with Wits Enterprise and a commercial partner Umbono Capital. The PeCo power innovation is an expandable in-house electrification grid that enables the connection of a range of renewable energy sources - such as solar panels and wind turbines - to batteries, as well as plugging in of the devices and appliances which require power - such as cellphones and lights. It requires no technical expertise for installation, operation and maintenance, since the system is a “plug and play”. The system is designed to be affordable for low-income households, robust to survive demanding African settings, and can be configured for a number of different applications, thereby changing lives and impacting on communities.

VC’s Social Impact Award

The purpose of this award is to stimulate social impact through high quality research and to acknowledge the achievements of an exceptional academic or team of academics who have used their scholarship to shape some aspect of public life within the last five years. Professor Karen Hofman, from the Faculty of Health Sciences was the recipient of the Vice-Chancellor’s Social Impact Research Award in 2020. Hofman, whose research has influenced health policies in South Africa motivated on behalf of her team based at the School of Public Health and in the South African MRC Centre for Health Economics and Decision Science, PRICELESS SA. Their body of research was completed over the past five years and has shaped public attitudes and population health in South Africa.

VC’s Research Award

The Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award is the highest accolade for achievement in research at Wits. The purpose of the award is to acknowledge the achievements of an exceptional Wits scholar who has demonstrated high levels of research excellence over a sustained period of time. Professor Johnny Mahlangu, Head of the School of Pathology in the Wits Faculty of Health Sciences was the recipient of the 2020 VC’s Research Award. He was recognised for contributing to the strategic research objective of producing high quality impactful research. Mahlangu, who has a consistent record of research excellence, has published over 100 peer reviewed ISI indexed publications, has an h-index of 25 and a significant postgraduate student supervision record.