Eskom Expo Q&A with Prof Ian Jandrell

Eskom Expo for Young Scientists had a Q&A session with Wits University’s Prof Ian Jandrell, who first joined the Expo Board of Directors in 1996 and had the real privilege of working with the late Dr Derek Gray – the founder of Expo for Young Scientists.

Question 1: Please tell us about yourself. Who are you and where are you from?

Prof Jandrell: I grew up in East London, in the Eastern Cape. Attended Selborne Schools all the way from day one to matric. I always imagined that I would be an engineer one day. Fortunately, I was awarded a bursary to study Electrical Engineering by Eskom – and left my home to come to do my first year at Wits University in 1982. I’ve lived in Johannesburg ever since then – but still love travelling (usually using as many off-road tracks as possible) through this extremely beautiful country down to the Eastern Cape – where we still have family.

Question 2: What do you do for a living and how has your career trajectory been to this point?

Prof Jandrell: I currently hold the position of Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Systems & Operations at Wits University. Prior to this, I was the Dean of Engineering and the Built Environment at Wits University – and have held that position since 2014. Prior to that, I was the Head of the School of Electrical and Information Engineering at Wits (for ten years – starting in 2001).  In parallel to that I have been a Director and shareholder in a technical publishing company since 1991, and also serve on a number of company Boards (including Wits Commercial Enterprise, the Wits Digital Incubator and some others).

What was very interesting in my career was that, after graduating, I did work for Eskom that literally turned into a PhD – almost by mistake. What I learned from that, and the incredible mentors I had both at Wits and in Eskom – is that the care and effort you put into assisting young people cannot be valued highly enough. That ultimately set me up to be released from Eskom to follow an academic career – doing research and teaching – which I think is absolutely fantastic! My team and I continue to work very closely with Eskom – and many other national and international companies.

Question 3: What qualifications have you obtained?

Prof Jandrell: I have a Bachelor of Sciences (Engineering) in the branch of Electrical Engineering, a Graduate Diploma in Engineering and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). I am also a nationally and internationally registered Professional Engineering – PrEng and IntPE(SA).

Question 4: When and where did you obtain your qualifications?

Prof Jandrell: All my qualifications were obtained from the Wits University: BSc (Eng) in 1985, Graduate Diploma in 1987, and the PhD in 1990. I have been a registered Professional Engineering since 1992.

Question 5: What made you pursue this profession?

Prof Jandrell: I always enjoyed science, maths, making stuff, figuring things out – and trying to understand what makes the world go round. Both my parents were teachers, and I think that I ended up with the best of both of these worlds: being able to contribute to the growth and development of our youth, as well as being an engineer.

Question 6: For how long have been involved with Eskom Expo? During this period can you relate some of your observations, in terms of growth, any changes of focus, benefits for young scientists,

Expo reach (geographical footprint and transformation); areas that Expo should focus on going forward?

Prof Jandrell: I first joined the Board of the Eskom Expo for Young Scientist in 1996 – and have hung around ever since! Each year, I am more powerfully reminded that here, in this country, we have some of the greatest young minds on the planet. We have so many challenges – really big challenges – affecting so many of our children at school – that organisations like the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, that try very hard to reach out and provide opportunity – are essential ingredients in our road to success.

If we are to succeed as a nation, and become a real contributor to international knowledge creation – then we have to continue to work tirelessly to get all of our schools up to the very highest level. Our learners deserve nothing less! Encouragingly, over the past few decades, I have seen the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists really extend its reach – to cover vast swathes of the country previously not considered. But much work remains to be done.

Question 7: What positions have you held in Eskom Expo?

Prof Jandrell: I have served as Chair of the Expo Board on more than one occasion, and currently serve as Vice Chair of the Board. I am also the chair of the Scientific Review Committee at the Eskom Expo International Science Fair, where I have to sign off on all projects competing internationally.

Question 8: Why do you continue to volunteer at Eskom Expo?

Prof Jandrell: To continually remind myself of the talent we have, and also to interact with these bright young people, and enthuse them about the future – and what it can be.

Question 9: Any achievements/highlights to mention while at Eskom Expo?

Prof Jandrell: Just developing an absolute admiration for the volunteers who continue to put every effort into assisting our youth, providing them with opportunities. I am privileged to be involved in however small a way. Over the past few years I also served as the co-chair of judging at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the largest science fair in the world hosted in the USA.

I must also single out the professionalising of the Eskom Expo National Office – a process that has evolved over the past while. The National Office now has a staff of incredible people who go well beyond the call of duty to support the volunteers, as well as the Provincial Coordinators to ensure that every learner is best assisted.

Question 10: What do you enjoy most about your role at Eskom Expo?

Prof Jandrell: Meeting with learners and educators, learning from them – and thinking about how wonderful the future can be.

Question 11: Where did your passion for Science Technology Engineering Mathematics and Innovation (STEMI) come from?

Prof Jandrell: It was always a part of how I thought. I don’t think I can pin it down to any particular thing. But all things technical fascinate me.

Question 12: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your thoughts on the importance of science, especially for South Africa?

Prof Jandrell: All the heroes that emerges during this pandemic are scientists. They are not politicians, sports people, actors or super heroes. They are regular folk who spend their lives trying to make the world a better place for everyone. This should not be forgotten.

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