“I was destined to teach” says young academic

“I was destined to end up in teaching – several of my family members, including both parents and a grandmother, work(ed) in education,” says Neo Motang who joined the Department of Process Engineering as junior lecturer on 1 April 2020 after teaching at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology for four years. She is one of the new additions to the growing corps of young academics appointed in the Faculty of Engineering over the past few years. Her decision to embark on a career in academia was also fuelled by the fact that she likes research, sharing knowledge and interacting with students.

Ms Motang hails from Zeerust in the North West Province. How did it come about that a young woman from Zeerust chooses to study and work at the Faculty of Engineering, Stellenbosch University? Once again, the charm of this quaint university town seems to have done it’s magic. Ms Motang explains: “I liked mathematics and science in high school, and saw engineering as the perfect combination of the two. I had an opportunity to visit the Stellenbosch campus during my matric year and found the town to be beautiful. Furthermore, SU has one of the best engineering programmes in the country.” As chemistry was her favourite science, doing a BEng in Chemical Engineering seemed to be a natural choice.

She obtained a BEng (Chemical Engineering) in 2013 and an MEng (Research) in 2015 at Stellenbosch University and is currently enrolled for a PhD with the dissertation topic: Evaluation of mass transfer at supercritical conditions using silicone oils and alcohols. “Briefly my research involves the following: An alternative way to separate liquid mixtures such as water-alcohol, essential oils and plant extracts is using dense gases at high pressures (known as supercritical fluids). These gases can dissolve some compounds in the liquid mixtures better than others. However, the conditions such as temperature, pressure and flow rate, that optimise the separation, are not well studied. We are studying the effect of the conditions when silicone oils and alcohols are dissolved in the dense gas.”

Ms Motang was appointed in the middle of the semester and to top all it, this also coincided with the beginning of the lockdown period. These unusual circumstances certainly produced several challenges for a young academic to grapple with. “Because I started in the middle of the semester, I have only been assisting a couple of senior lecturers and professors with administration and assessments in their subjects. Later I will be more involved in presenting course material such as practicals and supervising ‘skripsie’ students,” she says.

She has mixed feelings regarding the unusual way of teaching required by the lockdown. However, it is clear she is up to the challenge when she says: “I find it frustrating because interactions with students can be very limited, but also think it is an exciting opportunity to try different tools for teaching and assessment that might not necessarily have been relevant before.”

Like many of us she is using the lockdown period to broaden her knowledge and skills. She elaborates: “I am still in my home in Cape Town, and spend more time nowadays video calling loved ones. I am following the social media trends of cooking, baking, cleaning and learning new skills.”

Luckily, these extraordinary times in which she has joined academia have not quenched her desire to teach and do research. On this point she quite clear: “I would like to stay in academia and continue with research, hopefully finishing up my studies soon.”

Photo right: Neo Motang.

Photo left: Neo Motang doing an oral presentation at the Department of Process Engineering’s Postgraduate Conference in September 2019 as part of the Department’s 50-year celebrations.