College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

GirlCAD Demonstrator Team from left: Ms Ingrid Botha, Ms Nikita Perumal, Ms Tejal Mewalall and Ms Xolile Malembe.

UKZN and SAIMechE Empower Women!

A special prize-giving ceremony was held on the Howard College campus recently where female high school learners from a number of schools were recognised and graduated from the three-part GirlCAD programme.

The South African Institute of Mechanical Engineers (SAIMechE) recently collaborated with UKZN to deliver a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) “crash-course” workshop to learners. ‘The course is beneficial to women interested in pursuing careers in a number of technical fields, not just Engineering,’ said Ms Ingrid Botha, lecturer in Mechanical Engineering.

The GirlCAD programme, a non-profit initiative, was founded in 2017 by UKZN graduates, Ms Michaela Geytenbeek and Ms Lindelwa Dlamini, who were concerned that girls did not always have the opportunity to take STEM subjects in high school, especially Engineering Graphics and Design (EGD).

Geytenbeek said the programme aimed to empower women and eliminate residual inequalities from the past by equipping them with technical skills which will help them in their tertiary studies. ‘Our immediate goal is to help women become successful young professionals, especially in today’s male-dominated engineering and manufacturing sectors in South Africa,’ she said.

Girls from schools that do not offer EGD as a subject choice are disadvantaged when they reach the first  year of university study as they are expected to have prior knowledge and experience with skills taught in the subject and to be well-acquainted with using CAD software. ‘I noticed that girls are afraid of drawing when they start Engineering as they have not been exposed to EGD previously,’ she said.

GirlCAD acts as a platform both to encourage women to choose STEM subjects and work hard at them in school, and to consider pursuing serious careers in engineering thereafter. ‘Girls wishing to pursue careers in engineering will benefit from our lessons as we will teach them skills that they will use throughout their degree,’ said Botha.

The GirlCAD sessions are more interactive than a typical classroom setting having a single narrator. Girls are encouraged to ask questions during the sessions and to work together. Collaboration and communication skills are both important when networking and solving problems in the corporate world, while the ability to visualise designs is crucial when working in a technical field such as engineering.

‘Interacting with the girls helps us gauge weaknesses and issues in the current educational system so that we may combat these and start working towards a solution moving forward. We also receive feedback on how we can continue to improve the course and adapt our teaching approach to be more effective,’ said Mr Ewan Slabber, MScEng student (Mechanical Engineering), and current UKZN SAIMechE Student Chapter chairperson.

The girls enthusiastically participated in the course and the organisers are keen to expand it further.  ‘We are hoping to reach as many girls as we can to make an impactful difference. At these sessions, we had girls from Durban Girls’ College and Danville Park Girls’ High School to name a few,’ said master’s student, Ms Tejal Mewalall.

Ms Xolile Malembe, a third-year Mechanical Engineering student, who was one of the demonstrators during the course, commented: ‘This was all new to me. I was only introduced to computers in first-year as I come from a disadvantaged high school. I joined GirlCad as I saw it as an opportunity to showcase my experience.’

Words: Wendy Mngadi

Photograph: Supplied