Gold Medal for Seasoned Agricultural Engineer

Professor Jeff Smithers from the Discipline of Bioresources Engineering at UKZN was awarded the prestigious South African Institute of Agricultural Engineers (SAIAE) gold medal in recognition of his exceptional service to the institute.

The award was presented to Smithers at SAIAE’s biennial symposium held last month in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).

SAIAE has served the Discipline of Agricultural Engineering in South Africa for over 50 years while UKZN is currently the only South African university to offer an accredited Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Engineering.

Smithers served as SAIAE President from 2009-2010 and on the SAIAE Council as Vice-President from 2007-2008; he has been a Council member for more than 20 years. His leadership and direction shown at SAIAE was acknowledged, together with contributions to its functioning and leadership, particularly regarding growing the profession of Agricultural Engineering in South Africa and safeguarding the future of the qualification at UKZN.

He graduated from the former University of Natal with his undergraduate, Master’s and PhD degrees in Agricultural Engineering. For his MScEng degree, he developed a computer control system for tractive efficiency; his PhD study involved the development and evaluation of techniques for the estimation of short duration design rainfall in South Africa. The latter earned him a SAIAE silver medal.

His career began in the Directorate of Agricultural Engineering at the Department of Agriculture in Pretoria, now the Institute for Agricultural Engineering at the Agricultural Research Council. He joined the then-University of Natal in 1989, moving up from contract Senior Research Fellow to appointment as Professor of Agricultural Engineering in 2004. He was Head of the School of Bioresources Engineering and Environmental Hydrology for nine years. He has served on the University’s Senate and on several boards and committees.

Smithers is a Registered Professional Engineer with the Engineering Council of South Africa, where he has served on the Professional Accreditation Committee for Agricultural Engineering.

He has received a number of best lecturer and research productivity awards, and co-authored papers that received the Cecil Renaud Award from the South African Sugar Technologists’ Association in 2006 and the Chairman’s award for the best water related journal paper in 2015 and 2016 from the South African Institute of Civil Engineers Water Division. He is an Adjunct Professor in the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture at Australia’s University of Southern Queensland.

‘Through [his] visionary and leading inputs, Jeff has played a pivotal role in promoting and serving SAIAE,’ said Mr Felix Reinders, SAIAE’s honorary secretary. ‘It is a privilege to present a gold medal to him for his exceptional services.’

Smithers’ role in SAIAE has underscored his belief in the Institution’s role in community contributions and support of the university, as well as provision of professional support for graduates. His involvement has included resurrection of the KwaZulu-Natal branch of the SAIAE.

‘As an academic leader of international reputation, we are proud of Jeff Smithers,’ said Professor Albert Modi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, who called Smithers a humble man of academic integrity who lives up to UKZN’s vision of inspiring greatness.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph supplied