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Transforming engineering education: unlocking potential through technology and active learning

The inauguration of Professor Suné von Solms centred around the themes of people, education, and technology.

Professor Suné von Solms – Head of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering Science

In her capacity as the Head of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering Science and a distinguished academic, Professor von Solms delivered her inaugural address on Monday, 11 September 2023 in the presence of esteemed guests, including UJ Registrar Prof Bettine van Vuuren and Professor Daniel Mashao, the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment (FEBE).

Active learning and real-world experience

“As an engineering educator– who is educating engineers to go and work in the real world – I recognised the need for students to experience and understand the world that they would one day live in and contribute to. I became actively involved in the learning journey of my students, and it not only led to unlocking the true potential of the engineering students and graduates, but also active learning environments which transformed societies.”

From left to right: UJ Registrar Prof Bettine van Vuuren, Prof Rossouw von Solms, Prof Suné von Solms and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, Professor Daniel Mashao.
From left to right: UJ Registrar Prof Bettine van Vuuren, Prof Rossouw von Solms, Prof Suné von Solms and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, Professor Daniel Mashao.

Through a variety of projects, including the ongoing Gwakwani Project, which were created to educate engineering students, Prof von Solms and her colleagues were able to produce students who understand the impact of engineering activities and focus on technical excellence, but also understand the social and ethical implications of their work.

“Working in this environment, students also learnt that the creation of the right technology for the right environment can make a large impact.”

She continued: “We have witnessed an incredible change in the areas where we work. We have seen how the use of simple technology, applied in the right context at the right time, can make a massive impact. Utilising technology in a smart way can unlock a society’s potential. I believe that technology is a tool, and if the tool is used in the correct manner by the correct person for the correct application, societies can be transformed.”

Academic achievements and leadership

Professor Suné von Solms has been instrumental in shaping engineering education at UJ, contributing to the development of the Master of Systems Engineering program and guiding numerous postgraduate students to successful completion of their degrees. She has earned recognition as a member of the UJ Academy of Distinguished Teachers and the South African Society for Engineering Education (SASEE).

As a highly regarded NRF researcher with a C2 rating, Professor von Solms has received the Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Award in Teacher Excellence in 2019. Her research portfolio encompasses cybersecurity, the application and impact of engineering technology, and engineering education. Over her career, she has authored two academic books, published numerous journal articles, book chapters, and conference papers.

Community engagement and advancing engineering education

Beyond academia, Professor von Solms is actively involved in community engagement initiatives in collaboration with industry partners and student chapters. The notable Gwakwani community project, which she initiated, has garnered national recognition with four awards for its community impact. Over the past decade, this project has seen more than 50 students contribute to various initiatives, including solar boreholes, street lighting, solar home installations, creches, libraries, clinics, and IoT sensor deployments.

In addition, Professor von Solms played a pivotal role in establishing the UJ 4IR experience lab in collaboration with Schneider Electric, which was launched earlier this year. She continues to champion advancements in engineering education in South Africa, working collaboratively with fellow educators to elevate the standard of engineering education across the nation.

The inauguration ceremony concluded with a brief response from Professor Rossouw von Solms, Emeritus Professor of the Centre for Research in Information and Cyber Security at the School of ICT, Nelson Mandela University.

 

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