People that Inspire: Nomathemba Magagula

29 Nov 2018 2:28 AM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

I had the privilege of interviewing Nomathemba Magagula, a metallurgical and materials engineer and one of EWB-SA's new board members.

Magagula’s interest in engineering began quite early, while in high school, with her passion for wanting to solve African issues particularly in the mining sector. Her superb performance in her matric finals, resulted in her tertiary education being funded by United Manganese of the Khalahari, “I signed up for Metallurgical & Materials Engineering course with the grand idea of helping accelerate the talent pool refining African minerals on African soil,” she recalls.

Her academic performance at the University of Witwatersrand was no less illustrious from becoming a member of the Golden Key society to having her final year research project published by the South African Institute of Mining & Metallurgy (SAIMM). After graduation, she joined a 2 year rotational graduate program (joint partnership between Caterpillar & Barloworld Equipment). After which she joined Caterpillar officially in their Aftermarket Solutions Division as a Sales Support Consultant working for the EAME-CIS-CIND, “Caterpillar has been exciting in that there’s a lot of travel involved so I get to see the world whilst doing challenging work I love,” she explains.

Magagula has a strong NGO background with her grandfather being her biggest influence for the NGO work he did for the disabled community of building two disability centers in Mpumalanga. This instilled the desire in her to uplift the community, “I always knew if I were to work in engineering, it would have to be a platform for me to empower others,” Magagula elaborates.

Throughout her degree, she held various positions at EWB-Wits (Project manager, Public Relations Officer, Vice Chair). Caring for the community comes naturally to Magagula, she was already volunteering at “soup kitchen” programs & collecting the dining halls packs to give to the poor before joining EWB-SA, “I just needed a concreate platform to start doing this in a sustainable way within my chosen sector,” she explains. In her second year, she did some work with EWB-SA & Hatch Goba, conducting a literature review on the condition of Juskei river. That was her first project, “it felt like an extension of his [her grandfather’s] work but in the engineering sector,” she recalls.

At EWB-SA, Magagula started the professional chapter, ‘Mining for Shared Value' which focused on the challenges arising within mining communities, “I learnt that the word ‘community’ is subjective.” She soon discovered that the best way for people to benefit from the mines in their communities is to become suppliers of skills or products to these local mines. Her focus then shifted to, “ensuring students can start to understand their power as engineers in the context of entrepreneurship.” This resulted in the Entrepreneurship in Engineering workshops coming about for the EWB-SA student chapters in partnership with Umnandi, as an annual ongoing course. Magagula also led the planning and implementation of very successful national student retreat earlier this year, “so the community I have been able to empower is that of engineering students as they transition into young professionals using lessons I learned when I was in that phase of their lives,” she emphasises.

As a new board member of EWB-SA and the head of the Youth Leadership Portfolio, her main focus will be improving the Annual National Leadership Retreat & Entrepreneurship in Engineering course, “we want to ensure that the summit’s impact on chapter success is improved, that chapters heads are empowered with tools to position themselves as resilient, resourceful & results driven leaders , measure their on – campus impact better & maintain increased synergies with EWB-SA,” Magagula elaborates.

As a creative leader, EWB-SA has helped Magagula harness her passions into tangible actions. She has learnt how to “collaborate with small groups and large groups of people… how to navigate diversity within these large groups.” She feels that she has modelled her career from the mentoring that she has received both formally and informally from EWB-SA throughout the years. Career wise, she believes that “being a part of EWB-SA has led to various types recognition at work… Essentially, I am able to identify a gap within my work place culture and I always have tangible and actionable concepts and exercises that I can pull in from my experiences working within EWB-SA to share,” she explains. Most importantly, Magagula feels that EWB-SA has taught her the importance of open feed-back loops, “there’s critical power in reflection as it can improve an idea, event or concept you are working with… I now actively reflect to improve on myself in my work and personal environment too.”

With regards to being a woman in the engineering space, she feels that “there are differences between us that we ought to tackle head on so we can be authentic in our experiences with each other in the work place. I do not pretend to be ‘one of the guys'. I’m Noma, an individual… Once people begin to handle me as a person , we get along just fine.”

Her advice to young aspiring engineers is to “finish your degree. It gets so tough trying to cope with getting an education & getting exposure as you work on different sides of your character… take care of your mental & physical health. I always look at the happiest years of my life and I try maintain the elements that I had then… build a strong network during your years at varsity, knowing the right people is absolutely key as you come up in your journey because they can unlock doors you didn’t even know about.”

Magagula is not only an engineer but also an enthusiastic gardener and often refers to her work using gardening metaphors, “I always manage my big rocks of the week, submit those and then move on to the filler tasks in between.” Read more about this ambitious, hardworking and perceptive young engineer in the insightful interview below which is nothing short of a healthy green garden blooming with colourful knowledge flowers.

1) Describe your engineering journey.

I started growing an interest in engineering when I was in grade 11, I was quite passionate about being impactful in helping solve African issues particularly in the mining sector. In matric, I entered a competition by the Department of Mineral Resources where I was exposed to a bursary program for deserving students. We got a chance to meet the minister of Mineral Resources before my matric exams and she committed with the help of the United Manganese of the Khalahari to sponsor my university education should I do well in my exams. I did .. and I signed up for Metallurgical & Materials Engineering with the grand idea of helping accelerate the talent pool refining African minerals on African soil.

I started my degree at Wits University in 2012 and graduated in 2015. I made the Golden Key society & the Dean’s List in 2013, and I had my final year research project published by the SAIMM (South African Institute of Mining & Metallurgy) with the help of Prof Sacks. Throughout the 4 year degree I held various positions at EWB-Wits ( Project manager, Public Relations Officer, Vice Chair). I then joined a rotational graduate program that was a joint partnership between Caterpillar & Barloworld Equipment for 2 years. The program served as a solid platform for me to learn more about corporate culture. At the end of the program I joined Caterpillar officially in their Aftermarket Solutions Division as a Sales Support Consultant working for the EAME-CIS-CIND (Europe, Africa Middle , Commonwealth Independent States & China & India) region. Joining Caterpillar has been exciting in that there’s a lot of travel involved so I get to see the world whilst doing challenging work I love.

2) What prompted you to volunteer at EWB-SA?

In truth, I come from a strong NGO background. My grandfather was highly respected for the NGO work he did for the disabled community in our area. He got into a car accident before I was born so he was using a wheelchair , then used his influence to build 2 centers for the disabled in Mpumalanga. He was also my biggest influencers growing up so I always knew if I were to work in engineering, it would have to be a platform for me to empower others. In second year, he passed away during my exams, I felt a genuine frustration as I didn’t get a chance to send him off because I was “studying” .. I was ready to quit engineering but then I got an invite to do some work with EWB-SA & Hatch Goba when they were conducting a literature review on the condition of Juskei river. That was my first project & I joined the committee the next year and started playing my part. It felt like an extension of his work but in the engineering sector.

3) As a new board member of EWB-SA and the head of the Youth Leadership Portfolio, describe what your work at EWB-SA entails and what we can expect from you.

The main focus of my work will be improving the Annual National Leadership Retreat & Entrepreneurship in Engineering course. We want to ensure that the summit’s impact on chapter success is improved, that chapters heads are empowered with tools to position themselves as resilient, resourceful & results driven leaders , measure their on – campus impact better & maintain increased synergies with EWB-SA. We’re exploring how the material shared during the retreat can be better distributed to the members who do not make it on to the summit in that academic year. We want to ensure that we improve the “active” membership pool within the organization. We’re genuinely out to “empower engineers to empower communities”.

4) What sparked your interest in community development?

As stated above , I learnt to care about my community as an integral part of my daily life as I was physically living with & watching my grandad help people on a daily basis. It felt like the most natural thing to me. When I started at Wits , before joined EWB-SA I was already doing “soup kitchen” programs & collecting the dining halls packs to give to the poor. I just needed a concreate platform to start doing this in a sustainable way within my chosen sector.

5) How have you been able to utilize your skills as an engineer to assist/ empower communitiescommunities?

I learnt that the word “community” is subjective. When I finished university I set out to understand what “Shared Value” meant for mining communities hosting mines. I started a professionals chapter called “mining for shared value” where we hosted sessions that aimed at sparking conversations around the different challenges arising within mining communities. I learnt that the best way for people to benefit from mines being in their communities is by becoming suppliers of skills or products to the local mines. A range of engineers were not looking at how easily they could become suppliers thus my focused then shifted into ensuring students can start to understand their power as engineers in the context of entrepreneurship. I then focused on organizing the Entrepreneurship in Engineering workshops for some of the student chapters in partnership with Umnandi. This is an ongoing course that we will be offering annually. I also had the opportunity to lead the planning of the national student retreat in 2018. I also actively support the girl child by volunteering at WomEng when they need us. So the community I have been able to empower is that of engineering students as they transition into young professionals using lessons I learned when I was in that phase of their lives.

6) What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-SA?

As a creative leader EWB-SA has taught me how to harness my passions into tangible actions. This is how MSV was initiated and how its settled into its current direction. Its taught me how to collaborate with small groups and large groups of people, as well as a range of collaborative tools that could help me along the way such as Trello, Slack & Planning Spreadsheets. It’s also taught me how to navigate diversity within these large groups. It’s given me the platform to grow a solid network both within the EWB-SA context & other engineering based bodies and my network includes professionals , students & non engineering individuals. I have also been mentored both formally and informally across the years which has shaped how I have modelled out my career. Career wise, being a part of EWB-SA has led to various types recognition at work ,I have assisted in the Festival of Ideas judging panel, I have helped launch a “festival of ideas” within Barloworld.

I have been able to join the Women In Network Johannesburg branch leadership committee at Caterpillar and brought in content from the EWB-SA National Retreat to the office (Ted Talk on Radical Candor) . My latest endeavour is to bring speed mentoring to our office. Essentially, I am able to identify a gap within my work place culture & I always have tangible & actionable concepts and exercises that I can pull in from my experiences working within EWB-SA to share.

EWB-SA has also taught me the importance of open feed-back loops. There’s critical power in reflection as it can improve an idea, event or concept you are working with. It can also improve how you project yourself as a leader . I now actively reflect to improve on myself in my work and personal environment too. The organization has constantly given me a platform to express my views and they have constantly addressed my questions & concerns with respect which gives me as a young engineer confidence in my voice mattering and meaning something. I bring this same confidence to my work place.

7) How do you maintain a balance between the work at your day job and your work at EWB-SA?

I honestly take it as it comes. I always manage my big rocks of the week, submit those and then move on to the filler tasks in between. I ensure I do the most important & urgent tasks on both sides and then make time to do the other tasks. I try maintain EWB-SA work for my Friday’s but some meetings with stake holders are during the week. I work for an organization that allows us to manage our own calendars thus I can always shift things to accommodate what needs to be done first , The big rocks.

8) How would you describe your experience as a woman in the engineering space?

Its genuinely a different conversation once I mention I am an engineer. It’s a conversation starter, and it makes the guys look at me as more than just a black woman. There are differences between us that we ought to tackle head on so we can be authentic in our experiences with each other in the work place. I do not pretend to be “one of the guys” . I’m Noma, an individual , an interesting individual at best. Once people begin to handle me as a person , we get along just fine. I am also fortunate to be in a company that is very diverse in terms of nationalities, often the struggles of gender and race are amplified in the context of South Africa because of our past but I’ve found that my team is much better with addressing openly gender/race issues as their experiences with both are global.

9) Are there any interesting projects that you are working on currently or in the near future?

In terms of work, I am blessed to be doing a project I really love which is inclined to all the beliefs I had entering the engineering community. It is however confidential at this stage. In my personal life I am writing a poetry book & sharing some of my poems on my social media platforms too. I also travel abroad a lot through work so I share that part of my life too. Otherwise on most days I am tending to my garden, reading & nurturing my mental & physical health. If you’re keen to know me a bit better follow me on Instagram or twitter @NomathembaBellz.

10) What advise would you give to aspiring engineers?

Firstly, finish your degree. It gets so tough trying to cope with getting an education & getting exposure as you work on different sides of your character. But always tackle the big rocks. Secondly take care of your mental & physical health. I always look at the happiest years of my life and I try maintain the elements that I had then. For example as a child growing up I was always schooling, gardening, helping with my granddad’s NGO work & telling stories. If you look carefully I have grown to do exactly that as an adult and it keeps me so centered and aligned. Find the big rocks that keep your person alive and make them work for you. The third thing would be to build a strong network during your years at varsity , knowing the right people is absolutely key as you come up in your journey because they can unlock doors you didn’t even know about. Get mentors , multiple mentors, be a part of communities like EWB-SA or anything you’re interested in an start building your name.

Nomathemba Magagula interviewed by Dhruti Dheda


ENGINEERS WITHOUT BORDERS SOUTH AFRICA

Empowering Engineers to Empower Communities

2018 | EWB-SA is a registered non-profit company | NPC 2013/014531/08

Engineers Without Borders International

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software