Meet the 2021 Teaching Fellow: Prof Debby Blaine

Author: Corporate Communication and Marketing/Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking [Rozanne Engel]

After being awarded the Stellenbosch University (SU) Teaching Fellowship for the period 2021 to 2023, Prof Debby Blaine says that she hopes her research project will create a space for young people to speak, so that their voices are heard and something better is created for them.

“After working on the task team for drafting the Stellenbosch University Council Report on Decolonisation in 2016, I was convinced that what is missing on campus is the student voice in our classrooms. The Luister video, Open Stellenbosch, and just speaking to students in my classes, all tell me that there are highly intelligent, sensitive, imaginative and creative young people on our campus that can really help shape a better academic community.”

Blaine’s teaching fellowship will focus on exploring and identifying tangible ways in which SU can implement a collective approach to designing inclusive and transformed curricula that meet the needs of the diverse community of students and staff, explored through the context of the Faculty of Engineering.

Blaine is an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering. She joined SU in 2007, coming from an industry position in Germany as Deputy Manager of Materials Research and Development at Bleistahl Produktions GmbH & Co. KG. In 2017, she was promoted to associate professor in Mechanical & Mechatronic Engineering at SU, the first women to be appointed to this level since the department was founded 75 years ago.

She was also elected as the first female national president of the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 2018. Blaine is a founding member of the South African Society for Engineering Education and was national president from 2017 to 2019. She is also a 2018 recipient of SU’s Teaching Award in the Distinguished Teacher category for the Faculty of Engineering.

Blaine is a Matie alum with an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering. She also holds a PhD in Engineering Science & Mechanics from the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) in the United States of America.

According to Blaine, she was always interested in how things work and how to fix things. Growing up with a father who is also a mechanical engineer “entertained” her curious mind from a young age and ultimately motivated her to also pursue a career in the engineering field.

While working as a research assistant at Penn State’s Centre for Innovative Sintered Products during and after her doctoral studies, she had the opportunity to guest lecture some undergraduate classes in engineering mechanics and some postgraduate classes in powder metallurgy. It was here that she initially became interested in the possibility of an academic career.

However, she decided to first gain some industrial experience as an engineer, which is what led her to Germany. While she enjoyed her stint in the industry, she says it also made her realise that her real passion laid in tertiary education. Blaine also realised over time that she could make a tangible difference in the teaching and learning environment.

“Through my participation in various events and groups, I have been exposed to ideas that resonate with me and made me believe that there was a different way of structuring our teaching and learning environment. All of these events and more made me want to explore the possibility of collaborative curriculum design for engineering, where students as well as lecturers are an integral part of structuring the learning environment so that it serves the needs of a diverse group of learners and that is what I am focusing on for my fellowship.”

More on the SU Teaching Fellowship

Stellenbosch University initiated teaching fellowships in 2009 to provide an opportunity for selected academics to develop their teaching expertise and stimulate the growth of the scholarship of teaching and learning at the University. The fellowships provide excellent teachers and scholars of teaching and learning with the opportunity to spend a consistent period of time (between one and three years), with various forms of support, to focus on aspects of curriculum renewal, exploring teaching and learning, and disseminating good teaching and learning practice in departments and faculties.

The fellowships are funded by the University Capacity Development Grants. SU has awarded 13 fellowships since the inception of the programme in 2009. Four academics received a Teaching Fellowship for the period 2021 to 2023. They include, Dr Taryn Bernard (Extended Degree Programme, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences), Prof Debby Blaine (Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, Faculty of Engineering), Dr Gretha Steenkamp (School of Accountancy, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences), and Prof Susan van Schalkwyk (Director: Centre for Health Professions Education, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences).

For more information, please contact Dr Karin Cattell-Holden,

Photograph: Prof Debby Blaine