Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) has made one of the biggest appointments by hiring Dr Grace Kanakana-Katumba, as an executive dean in the faculty of engineering and built environment (FEBE).
An industrial engineer by training Kanakana-Katumba, is an accomplished and “astute scientists”, who boasts vast industry and higher education experience. She worked for major corporates like the automotive industry development centre (AIDC), Continental Tyres, Johnson Controls and the Lear Corporation.
According to TUT, Kanakana-Katumba’s industry experience started in the early ’90s when she was appointed at an international automotive company, Johnson Controls. This is one of the biggest original equipment manufacturer (OEM), which supplies automotive companies such as BMW and Volkswagen. After a decade at Johnson Controls, she joined the AIDC in 2006 as a project manager for the supplier development programme.
For Kanakana-Katumba the appointment feels like coming back home. Her first relationship with TUT was in 2007 as a part time lecturer in industrial engineering. Just a year after that she was promoted to head of the department (HoD) of industrial engineering. In 2013 she became assistant dean of teaching and learning at FEBE. And between August 2017 and January 2018, she also acted as dean of FEBE.
Sharing her vision as the new executive dean Kanakana-Katumba said: “In terms of programmes and positioning ourselves globally, it is vital that we instil entrepreneurship confidence in our students. Engineers, by nature, are meant to be innovative, creative and flexible.”
She believes engineers should contribute meaningfully to society instead of being mere consumers. They “should never sit at home because they can’t find employment; therefore it is our responsibility to produce quality graduates who are responsive in nature, dedicated to solve societal problems and who are able to create employment, rather than being job seekers only”, she added.
She said her main priority would be to ensure that in the coming three years all engineering programmes are offered fully online. “This will ensure that students do not have to struggle with class attendance and that they will be able to do their work online with ease. There is no denying that the world is moving fast in terms of technology, therefore things will increasingly be done online,” observed Kanakana-Katumba.
She said this innovation brings its own challenges one of which is increasing support to students, “which is why we would like to introduce more student online support in future”. This will assist students, she said, to receive extra help with their studies and keep them actively engaged in online activities. Even when COVID-19 comes to an end, blended learning is here to stay at FEBE,” she said.
Another important focus area for FEBE according to Kanakana-Katumba is forging industry partnerships with an emphasis on building innovation value chains and industry 4.0 capabilities. “Applied research in key areas of sustainable development goals will be strengthened within the faculty and internationalisation projects to support these initiatives will be implemented,” she added.
Kanakana-Katumba boasts several awards under her belt. These include:
- Institutional Award for Young Emerging Researcher of the Year 2015
- Young Researcher of the Year in 2015
- Faculty Award: Merit Award 2016 and
- Woman Researcher of the Year 2017.
- Recipient of 2019 Royal Academy of Engineering research award for Smart Manufacturing worth 80 000 pounds.
These accolades serve as a source of eternal inspiration for her to scale new academic heights. “Whether I receive recognition or not, what matters to me is to know that I have done everything to the best of my ability and that I am doing the right thing,” she said.
Another enviable achievement for Kanakana-Katumba is that she is one of the founding members of ‘Women in Engineering’ at TUT, a body created to empower women in academia and industry. This was established in support of the TUT mechanical engineering lecturer, Maureen Ramaube’s vision.
Kanakana-Katumba also became part of the team that developed and provided leadership of the faculty’s internal review process to ensure effective quality assurance. The outcome of this process was that the faculty received full accreditation for the majority of its engineering programmes.
She is also highly regarded within her field having published widely in accredited and non-accredited journals. She also participated in at least 33 local and international conferences. She has been regularly invited as plenary or keynote speaker at three global conferences between 2017 and 2019.
She is also part of the review process for NRF applications and journal papers. To top it all Kanakana-Katumba has developed the niche area for optimisation, lean Six Sigma and Smart Manufacturing.
She said she will continue with her community outreach and engagement programmes such as the ‘Women in Engineering’ and ‘Boys to Men’ programmes. The latter grooms young boys to become responsible citizens in their environment, especially with regard to addressing issues related to gender-based violence in society.