Chemical Engineering graduate a finalist in IPGIP intervarsity competition

[Article by Amber Viviers]

Beatrice Walelu Mwamba, who obtained her BEng degree (cum laude) from the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering at Stellenbosch University (SU) in 2022, was one of the finalists of the Integrated Post Graduate Industry Partnership (IPGIP) competition.

The purpose of the IPGIP prize is to honour the late engineer E. H. Mathews, whose wish was to bring academia and industry closer together in the engineering field and encourage high-quality research at an undergraduate level.

Beatrice was nominated by the Dean of the Faculty, Prof Wikus van Niekerk, for this annual prize. Her project, titled “Soap production from waste cooking oil and additives derived from citrus peel waste – a green perspective,” focused on soap production as a valorisation route for waste cooking oil. D-Limonene extracted from citrus peel waste was investigated as an antibacterial soap additive. Soap was formulated experimentally and a techno-economic study assessed the industrial-scale feasibility.

Her supervisor, Zwonaka Mapholi, says she was a joy to work with. “From the beginning of her final year project, she showed great initiative. That, coupled with a passion for her project and engineering, made my role as her supervisor a wonderful experience.”

Beatrice was hosted at the Institute for Plant Biotechnology (IPB) for a part of her research project, where she worked with Dr Bianke Loedollf and the Institute’s deputy director, Dr Shaun Peters. “Beatrice learned about the microbial world and how it could be applied to her project. Our postgraduate students were also quite curious about having an engineer amongst them and Beatrice quickly became a part of team IPB,” says Shaun.

Beatrice chose to study Chemical Engineering at SU because her brothers also studied here and “I loved the scenery of this beautiful town”.

“That, coupled with the high quality of the engineering programme, made Stellenbosch an obvious choice. I chose chemical engineering because I was fascinated by the prospect of taking a low-value item, subjecting it to one or more well-designed processes, and thereby adding value to this item. That is a broad definition of chemical engineering and I wanted to be part of this ‘value-adding’ process,” she explains.

Her faith has carried her through her studies for the past four years. “God blessed me with the opportunity to study and showed me unconditional love and grace throughout the journey.”

This year she is partaking in Zutari’s graduate programme and hopes to join their Water Treatment team to work alongside dedicated process engineers. “I look forward to growing as an engineer under the mentorship of industry experts,” she says about her plans for the future.

She shares the following advice with future undergraduate students:

Prioritising your well-being is not a luxury or a reward for good behaviour – it’s a necessity. You’re more likely to make sound engineering decisions when well-rested and healthy. Your studies should work alongside your well-being, not at the expense of it.
There is no shame in reaching out for help when you need it. This applies to all facets of life, not only your studies. Acknowledging your weaknesses and being prepared to receive support are valuable – yet severely underrated – skills. I cannot stress this enough: don’t wait until it’s too late to get the help you need. A wise person once said: “Even ‘illness’ becomes ‘wellness’ when you replace ‘I’ with ‘we’.”
When you can, extend a helping hand to those around you. Even the smallest act of kindness may hugely impact someone’s life.
Progress is positively sloped but extremely noisy. It’s good to check your progress but ensure a long enough interval between two sample points.
You cannot control everything that happens in your life, but you can manage your response to what happens. Taking ownership is a tough job, but it certainly invites a great deal of personal growth.
She ends with: “Dream big and aim high but allow yourself to tackle those big dreams in baby steps if you need to. Life is a marathon, not a sprint – pace yourself well!”

📷 – Beatrice Mwamba (left) and her supervisor, Zwonaka Mapholi (right).