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03 September 2019

Lessons From Harvard University

Dr Yekwayo has a keen interest in research that focuses on the interaction of arthropods with various vegetation types. This year she got an opportunity to go on a collaborative research visit and work at Harvard University for four months.

“I am interested in the conservation of surface-dwelling arthropods, their interaction in various vegetation types and the positive and negative impacts of disturbances on arthropod conservation,” she says.

Dr Yekwayo is currently collaborating with other researchers from different institutions, here at UMP, Harvard University, University of Stellenbosch and University of KwaZulu-Natal. She has shared her research findings at local and international conferences.

Q: How did the opportunity to go to Harvard come about? 
It came after the Centre for African Studies (CAS) sent a scholarship call to the University of Mpumalanga. They wanted a candidate from one of the three research themes: Environmental and Socio-Economic Sustainability; Post-Harvest Management and Food Security; and Biodiversity Conservation and Development. 

Professor Dan Parker, who is the chairperson of the Biodiversity Conservation and Development research theme, nominated me. I had to submit a formal application, which he sent to CAS for assessment. My application was successful.

Q: Tells us about your experience at Harvard University?
Being at Harvard was an eye-opener. In my four months there I was exposed to Teaching and Learning, Research and Community Engagement initiatives. I had an opportunity to observe how the university facilitates teaching and learning. So, attending classes at Harvard was useful, particularly because I had the opportunity to see their different teaching and assessment methods. Through those observations I started to get ideas on the different ways I can implement in my own teaching at UMP.

Q: How are you going to implement what you learnt there, here at UMP? 
One of the teaching methods I admired the most was co-teaching, where two teachers prepare for a lesson. This is based on how they facilitated the teaching and learning in the classroom and the two teachers attend each other’s classes. I believe if we can do the same here at UMP, it would help us to enhance our teaching and learning. If lecturers teach together, I think it would be easy for students to learn and understand the subjects.

Q: What else did you get an opportunity to do? 
At Harvard University there is an African Language Program (ALP), where students have an opportunity to learn any African language they prefer. ALP asked me to teach isiXhosa, which is my mother language. That experience made me appreciate my language a lot more.

Q: What else did you get involved in? 
CAS attached me to a laboratory in the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ). There I collaborated with researchers working on a project that’s aimed at determining the response of an African Acacia tree species to smoke and observe if ant species (Crematogaster and Tetraponera) help the tree survive fire. At MCZ I had an opportunity to present some of my research during their symposium meetings. In addition to the ant project, I worked with a spider taxonomist to learn spider identification.

Q: Any other interesting projects you have done?
In April this year I participated in the 2019: Cape Nature Challenge, which is the annual competition among urban areas around the world to see which place can log the most nature sightings over a four-day period. My contribution was in the identification of arthropods. The identification period was from 30 April – 5 May 2019 at MCZ. Identified species were moved to Research Grade status. Observations of species that earned Research Grade status flow into the Encyclopaedia of Life (EOL) and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), which are open science platforms.