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WOMEN IN ENERGY SOUTH AFRICA’S FIRST FEMALE NUCLEAR ENGINEER ESI Africa speaks with Women in Nuclear South Africa (WiNSA) President, Dr Margaret Mkhosi, about life lessons and role of women in the nuclear sector. ESI Who were your mentors and how did they inspire your choices? MM My eldest brother has been my number one mentor all the way. When he finished high school, he declined a scholarship for himself so that he could work in order to get us through school. He was instrumental in my choosing a career in the sciences. During my studies in the USA, Dr Richard Denning and Dr Audeen Fentiman proved to be very inspiring to me. Dr Denning was my academic advisor making my transition from South Africa very smooth. The kind of support he provided especially when it came to handling my research work was very inspiring and this led to me advising women today on how to balance work, academic work and life in general. Dr Fentiman was the first female nuclear engineer in the history of Ohio State and that served as an inspiration to me. She was a great mentor whose support led to my current success as a female leader in the nuclear space. ESI What challenges have you had to overcome in your professional career? MM Whilst doing my undergraduate degree, I was one of the only two females in my class who majored in Physics and Chemistry. People were trying to discourage us, telling us that no woman had ever majored in Physics in the history of the department. We proved Dr Audeen Fentiman. Associate Dean of Engineering. Purdue University Dr Richard Denning. Consultant. The Ohio State University. them wrong. I later became the first female Physics Lecturer at the university. And later, the first female and black PhD (Nuclear Engineer) in South Africa, and the first at the Ohio State University. ESI Are there enough women in the industry? Should gender matter? MM Radioactivity was discovered by a woman, Marie Curie, and you would think that there would be more than enough women in this field. Unfortunately this is not the case. With the efforts of WiNSA, we are encouraging participation of more women in this industry. As an individual, I have started an initiative that I call ‘Charity Begins at Home’, where I ensure that my daughter and nieces are educated about nuclear with the intent that they will in turn teach their friends, thus helping to spread awareness. I also managed to take this initiative to a school in my home village, where I taught learners nuclear basics and included hands-on activities. There were about 15 young girls in the class who I will continue to mentor throughout and hopefully they will add to the number of women in the industry by the time South Africa builds more nuclear power plants. ESI What was the most important decision or stepping stone for you? MM The day I decided to get onto that plane and head to the USA for my studies in nuclear engineering. It changed my life! Yes, it was painful to leave my family behind at that time, with my daughter being just five months old – but my family and friends provided the support needed and my family joined me later on. It has been a great experience for all of us. ESI Can you share a success story in your sector that has changed the lives of women? MM Upon finishing my studies in the USA I came back to South Africa in 2007 84 Dr Margaret Mkhosi’s career path While pursuing her BSc Honours Degree in Physics she worked as a teacher and later as a college lecturer training Physical Science teachers. In 2000, Mkhosi received a scholarship from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to further her studies in nuclear engineering at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. There she completed her MS and PhD in Nuclear Engineering in 2007. Upon returning to South Africa Mkhosi worked briefly at the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor and joined the National Nuclear Regulator in 2008 as a Senior Specialist in Nuclear Engineering. In March 2011, she joined the Technology Innovation Agency as General Manager for Special Projects. and took a position with the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) in June 2008. I met a young lady, Nthabiseng Mohlala, who was working as a laboratory technician who needed mentoring. I offered my expertise and worked with her providing the technical assistance she needed, and everything else that an individual needs when they join a new organisation or a different industry. This included simple things that we sometimes take for granted, from crafting an email to ESI AFRICA ISSUE 4 2014