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Female chemical engineer student breaks the mould

Bernadette Kanku - chemical engineer student at Stellenbosch University.

Bernadette Kanku - chemical engineer student at Stellenbosch University.

Published May 18, 2022

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Meet Bernadette Kanku, a 19-year-old who is currently in her first year of a bachelor’s degree in process engineering at Stellenbosch University – this would never have been possible without her scholarship from the Kay Mason Foundation.

Despite the challenging circumstances that come with living in a single-parent home in an underprivileged area, Kanku was determined to change her fortunes and that of her family.

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Her primary school had connections to the Kay Mason Foundation, an NPO that provides school bursaries as well as social and personal development support to talented scholars across the country. Kanku was encouraged to apply for a Kay Mason Foundation scholarship and within this offering, she received job skills training through their Career Catapult programme.

When she graduates, Kanku will be one of only a handful of qualified engineers in South Africa. Despite the rate of engineering jobs becoming available faster than in any other occupation in the country, with 1 800 openings for chemical engineers alone projected every year, the number of engineering graduates is reducing dramatically each year, especially among women, who make up less than 20% of the sector.

Kanku’s biggest dream now is to graduate and help find a cure for cancer. Her advice to young girls in South Africa is to make the most of every opportunity that comes their way.

“You are the writer of your own story and only you have the power to forge a different ending. Start by writing your goals down as it helps to visualise them and do not be afraid to do something different to what your family or community expects from you,” she says.

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