Education Sector – Founder, Black Women in Science

Ndoni Mcunu was not always interested in science. Some of her family members made a living in the field and that’s why she initially pursued it. However, as a 16-year-old she struggled with both maths and science, as a result of which she was told she was not a scientist.

Determined to prove that others could not determine her destiny, she persevered with both subjects, with the support of her family. Her attitude paid off, and Mcunu now holds a bachelor of science (honours) in environmental science and geography and a master’s of science in applied environmental science.

For her MSc thesis, she examined how remote sensing (RS) and geographic information systems (GIS) could be used to improve and assist rangeland and agricultural managers in monitoring the changes in grasslands. “This will assist farmers in implementing the benefits of precision agricultural practices. Furthermore, it will serve as a warning system to farmers in the case of unpredicted climate changes,” she says.

Mcunu is now pursuing her PhD at the Global Change and Sustainability Research Institute at Wits, focussing on climate change and its effects on biodiversity conservation and agricultural production for smallholder farmers.

She also recently founded Black Women in Science (BWIS), a non-profit organisation aimed at providing knowledge and awareness of science for young rural women. “As exposure [to science] got me into the field of science, I believe that is how South Africa can increase the number of rural black females [going into] careers in Stem (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics),” she says.

BWIS exposes young black females to such careers, and provides support and mentorship for them. The organisation is working with four learners in remote rural areas in KwaZulu-Natal, but some day — with adequate funding — Mcunu hopes to expand across Africa. “Becoming a scientist has expanded my mind and built my confidence in a great manner,” she says. “I want to ensure that all women have the opportunity of receiving such a privilege. Exposure to my field and story was a way I in which I could assist young women to grow with me and not get left behind.” — Fatima Asma