Young people do not need to be inspired by abstract notions of role modelling. Show them someone within touching distance from them and you’d have done them a good deed indeed.
One such role model is Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, the incoming vice-chancellor at the University of Johannesburg.
At a “youthly” 47, they sure make professors and university principals younger these days. He is a highly decorated engineer but makes the subject real, not a high fallutin’ concept of bombastic words. He acquired the vast majority of his degrees magna cum laude, yet he still speaks like the guy next door, not a high and mighty academic.
He says our education needs to allow graduates to plough back into their communities. He has walked the hallowed halls of top universities across the globe, where he studied and taught. He has written and presented papers all over the world. He is big on fundraising for research, having increased UJ research output from 897 in 2012 to 1280 in 2015.
In that period, he increased research funding from R83.7million to R229.5m.
He has increased the number of staffers with doctoral qualifications from 294 to 539 in just under four years.
We need acres of newspaper space to tell all of what he has achieved. We resist the temptation to do so. The advantage of tertiary students today, especially those at UJ who can seek his audience any time, is that he is very accessible, and within screaming distance.
A role model, in flesh and blood; not a mysterious Hollywood icon. Make use of his availability.
The Sunday Independent