From left: Dr Sudan Hansraj, Dr Ché Pillay, Dr David Lokhat and Dr Matthew Akerman.

CAES Celebrates its Distinguished Teachers

Four academics in UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) have each received a 2017 Distinguished Teacher Award (DTA).

A DTA recognises innovative and sustained teaching efforts of staff who balance their research and teaching responsibilities, dedicating themselves to excellence in teaching and learning.

The four academics are Dr Matthew Akerman of the School of Chemistry and Physics (SCP), Dr David Lokhat of the School of Engineering, Dr Ché Pillay of the School of Life Sciences, and Dr Sudan Hansraj of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science.

Acting Dean of Teaching and Learning in the CAES Professor Naven Chetty welcomed guests to the ceremony where Professor Ross Robinson presented  Akerman with the award, calling it well deserved.

Akerman has contributed to initiatives to improve teaching in the School as a lecturer and Academic Leader of Teaching and Learning. He has developed innovative teaching resources to support learning, including demonstration videos in English and isiZulu to familiarise first year students with the chemistry laboratory environment, and videos and course notes covering complex topics at higher levels.

He has assisted in the development of new modules in Chemistry and Physics, co-ordinated an external review of all SCP majors, and given input on review panels.

Professor Cristina Trois presented Lokhat with his award, applauding his passion and enthusiasm for transmitting knowledge. Lokhat, who teaches fundamental and applied chemical reaction engineering, has made delivery of information more appealing by introducing a seminar approach for post-practical assessment.

Lokhat is known for being approachable and for being a great mentor and supervisor. His research in chemical reactor design, optimisation and chemical kinetics has attracted considerable funding and he is a highly published researcher and recipient of numerous accolades.

Pillay accepted his award from Professor Ademola Olaniran, who emphasised Pillay’s passion and drive for his research into redoxin systems. Olaniran highlighted Pillay’s belief in quality, evidenced in the publications he has authored.

Pillay prioritises understanding how to lead creatively and innovatively, and encourages the posing of
“disruptive” questions. He explores different teaching methodologies and approaches, and has introduced a form of peer learning to develop higher order thinking skills. He routinely runs class debates, and emphasises inquiry-driven experimental training.

Hansraj, who accepted his award from Professor Delia North, has experience in teaching Mathematics from primary school to PhD level.

He has developed a write-in workbook for first-year Engineers to assist weaker students, uses technology including websites and videos in his teaching, and is committed to communicating the innate beauty in Mathematics.

Hansraj, who has published a series of high school study material and written articles about the teaching of Mathematics, is a popular speaker at teaching conferences all over Africa and has organised conferences on the teaching of university Mathematics and the role of decolonisation. Hansraj is a well-published researcher and supervisor, collaborating with researchers world-wide. His interest currently lies in Lovelock and Einstein-Gauss-Bonnet higher curvature theory of the gravitational field. He is extensively involved in mathematics societies, committees and initiatives.

Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Teaching and Learning, Professor Bala Pillay, closed the ceremony, thanking award winners for their contributions to furthering teaching and learning at UKZN.

Words: Christine Cuénod