Eskom has been sponsoring the Expo for Young Scientists since the 1980s. In 1990, Eskom asked me to be the Eskom representative on the Eskom Expo Board of Directors. In 2000, I was seconded by Eskom to take over in a full- time capacity as the Expo National Manager due to the demise of the founder, Dr Derek Gray.
Taking this role was going to be a major challenge for me as I was not a scientist by profession, but challenges were part of my life, and I knew that with my passion, knowledge, creativity and experience, I would be able to manage this project and make it a success.
My first priority was to establish the Eskom Expo’s own office, infrastructure, resources and additional manpower.
Thankfully, in 2001, Eskom increased its sponsorship and become the title sponsor of Expo. The additional funding that we received from Eskom gave me the opportunity to establish an office in Boksburg. Once the office was established, myself, together with the assistance of a few regional volunteers produced a business plan, project guide book, training material for project development for teachers and learners, a judging manual and training material, along with other stationery for the national office, regional expos and the national finals.
I am proud to say that the Eskom Expo became very successful and a household brand for Eskom. So much so that Dr Steve Lennon from Eskom increased Eskom’s sponsorship significantly in 2013.
During this time, the Eskom Expo project expanded from 26 regions to 35 regions across the country. I had the opportunity to train teachers and judges not only in South Africa, but also in Lesotho, Swaziland, and Namibia.
Eskom Expo attracted participants from Swaziland, Namibia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Thailand, Reunion and the USA, and so I (with approval from the Board of Directors) changed the name of the national finals to the International Science Fair (ISF), and my title changed to International Science Fair Director, with the regional volunteers becoming Regional Science Fair Directors.
Eskom Expo was endorsed by the Department of Science and Technology which was also a sponsor as the most prestigious Science and Engineering Fair, for junior and senior learners in South Africa.
In 2013, when Eskom increased their sponsorship and the magnitude of the project, the Board of Directors appointed an Executive Director, a bookkeeper and nine full-time Provincial Coordinators to assist the Regional Science Fair Directors in recruiting schools, mainly among the previously disadvantaged schools and also building relationships with the provincial government departments and various stakeholders. Another challenge was to source funding to assist in running the regional expos.
Eskom Expo had many remarkable achievements during my tenure, especially in international participation, as Eskom Expo returned to South Africa with prestigious awards. This was due to the mentorship and upgrading programme my team and I conducted for our international participants.
Just to mention a few achievements:
- In 1997, Expo successfully hosted an International MILSET Science Expo attended by 800 delegates from 34 countries at the University of Pretoria.
- In 2005, together with Dr Derek Gray, the founder of Expo, we travelled to Santiago in Chile and made a successful bid for South Africa to host the MILSET Exposcience Internationale again in 2007.
- In 2007, the Eskom Expo hosted MILSET’s Exposcience Internationale, this time at the Durban Convention Centre. I encouraged the then Chairman, Prof Ian Jandrell to negotiate with Eskom for additional funding for hosting this event which positioned South Africa positively on the global platforms. The second hosting, was made possible because of Eskom’s generous sponsorship of the event and Eskom Expo was voted the best international youth science fair in the last 25 years, according to the President of MILSET, “It is without any possible disputation the best ever Expo-Science organised within the MILSET framework”.
- I was elected the African President of MILSET in 2007; and in 2013 become the Treasurer for MILSET International. This meant Eskom Expo was represented on a number of international platforms that were making decisions regarding the involvement of South Africa in the international science fairs.
- I also had the privilege to network with leaders of many international sciences fair organisations, to identify the science fairs in which, Eskom Expo could be affiliated with. Numerous international science fair doors were opened for African learners to participate and network with peers from all over the world, including the London International Youth Science Forum.
- Also in 2007, South Africa made history at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) competition, held in the USA, when all three of our participants won the first prize in each of their respective categories, and were also overall category winners. This was my proudest moment as the international selection team and I worked very hard with these projects. One of those participants is Siyabulela Xuza, who not only has a planet named after him by MIT Lincoln Laboratory (USA); but he is also a Rocket Scientist; Harvard graduate, engineer and entrepreneur.
- The greatest achievement is Eskom Expo with all its 35 regional expos and ISF working like a well-oiled machine, and all working towards a common goal.
I enjoyed inspiring and enthusing the future generation of our country about the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Innovation (STEMI).
Working at Eskom Expo was the most enjoyable period of my career, as my personal vision was achieved: to engage, educate and inspire the next generation about the importance of STEMI in their lives and futures.
To the learners, remember that science and engineering fairs play a key role in your future. By participating in Eskom Expo, it will help you to refine and display your own understanding of the knowledge and techniques acquired from the formal classroom teaching and learning. Our youth has shown that they can find solutions to the many problems the world is facing, like COVID-19.