Scientist Driven to Make Social Change
Ms Yanga Mdleleni was proud to have graduated cum laude with a Master's degree in Biological Sciences.
She is proud of how far she has come and where she is going. ‘It is a reminder that hard work will always be rewarded, and it is a step closer to fulfilling my dream,’ she said.
Mdleleni chose to enter her field of study because she wanted to help her fellow Africans and empower women to challenge the status quo. ‘In Africa, we face numerous diseases and hardships. I wanted to address some of these issues by becoming a scientist who can develop solutions. I also wanted to break the stereotype that women cannot persevere in male-dominated fields, such as science,’ she said.
During her academic journey Mdleleni struggled to find balance. ‘Striking a balance between my social and academic life was difficult at first but with the support and understanding of my friends and family, I managed,’ she said.
Her advice to her undergraduate students was to not lose focus. ‘Set your priorities straight and always have the end goal in mind. Never be misled by varsity fun and forget what you’re here to do,’ she said.
She is currently pursuing a PhD in Public Health at UKZN, as she is passionate about making a difference in the lives of township children. ‘We all deserve a chance, irrespective of our background, which is why I started a non-profit organisation to assist underprivileged children. We aim to help them reach their full potential through life skills, health education and academic mentorship,’ said Mdleleni.
To help push this agenda, she plans on partnering with the Department of Health, the Department of Education and the Department of Rural and Social Development. ‘Through these partnerships, I hope to bring forth solutions to health and socio-economic issues on our continent,’ she said.
This is also in line with her definition of inspiring greatness. ‘It means using what you have learned to excel and to inspire those who come after you to know that it can be done,’ she said.
Mdleleni’s mother, Ms Bulelwa Mdleleni, said she was not surprised by her daughter’s ambitions and successes thus far. ‘My daughter is very humble, caring and has a beautiful heart. She grew up always believing in herself and always wants to stand out from the crowd, hence she has achieved exceptional results in her academia at such a young age. I am very proud of the young woman she has become. With God by her side, I know she will do so many great things,’ she said.
Words: Sashlin Girraj