“Overwhelming”, that is how Keneiloe Molopyane reacted to the exciting news that she has been recognised as a pioneer by the National Geographic Society (NGS). Molopyane who is an archaeologist and biological anthropologist at Wits was last week announced as part of the National Geographic Society’s 2021 Emerging Explorer cohort.
To be recognised as the geographic explorer is considered one of the most distinguished accolades. According to the NGS, the accolades are reserved for individuals with “transformative ideas” and who aim to harness the power of knowledge to “illuminate and protect the wonder of our world”.
“The Emerging Explorer cohort comprises individuals breaking through in their respective fields with big ideas,” said the NGS. The society said it invests in these special breed of individuals to “help shine a light on our shared human experiences, empower the next generation of change-makers, and demonstrate the power of science and exploration to change the world”. Her incredible tenacity and fearlessness saw her dive deep into the caves and oceans in search of priceless treasures of human kind’s origins.
Molopyane said it took long for the news to sink. “Since I found out, I’ve had little time to sit back and realise what it all means. I think it’s still sinking in,” she gushed. Alex Moen, chief explorer engagement officer at the NGS said: “Keneiloe was selected as a member of this cohort because she exemplifies what it means to be a National Geographic Explorer.” Moen added that: “Through her work as an archaeologist and biological anthropologist, and her focus on inspiring the next generation, Keneiloe is advancing our understanding of the world and all that’s in it.”
“Keneiloe was selected as a member of this cohort because she exemplifies what it means to be a National Geographic Explorer. Through her work as an archaeologist and biological anthropologist, and her focus on inspiring the next generation, Keneiloe is advancing our understanding of the world and all that’s in it.”
As an explorer, Molopyane will now have an opportunity to work with the NGS. And the partnership will allow her to, among others:
- pursue new projects
- collaborate with other Explorers
- amplify her work to National Geographic audiences, and
- do educational outreach through the Society.
Molopyane will also participate in public speaking and media training, and will attend this year’s Explorers Festival virtually in June.
Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site
Molopyane joined the Rising Star Cave research team in 2018 as a junior underground astronaut. She completed her PhD in biological anthropology at Wits in 2020 and her research topic was on skeletal trauma. Molopyane then became involved in the UW105 Cave excavations, where she took on a leadership role in the expedition. She has since become the first post-doctoral research fellow at the Wits Centre for Exploration of the Deep Human Journey, which is headed up by fellow Witsie and National Geographic Explorer at Large, Professor Lee Berger. Molopyane’s post-doctoral research will entail deep exploration of the famous Gladysvale Cave system which is located in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.
Molopyane joins a group of 14 other scientists, educators, and storytellers in the 2021 Emerging Explorer cohort – a group of people whose fields of expertise are as diverse as culinary history and marine biogeochemistry. “They’re amazing people, phenomenal!” said Molopyane of her cohort. “I feel proud to represent Africa, and hope to see more Africans receiving the same recognition in the coming years.”
Molopyane has met her cohort via Zoom, but hopes for the opportunity to soon be together in the same room with them. Molopyane who will graduate with her PhD at Wits in the July graduations this year, joins five other Witsies who hold the title of National Geographic Explorer.
“I’ve been telling people for a long time that I am an explorer, but now the title is official!” she said. Her advice to students who want to pursue doctorate studies is that they should: “approach this journey one step at a time. It is a marathon, not a sprint. When you need help, ask for it!