Celebrating Youth Month: Inspiring Future Scientists

Inspiring South Africa's future scientists: The 2024 Gen S Campaign, led by SAMRC, Stellenbosch University, and CERI, offers high school students hands-on STEM experiences during Youth Month. This immersive program aims to address the country's critical skills shortage and ignite a passion for science in the next generation.

When should young people be formally introduced to careers? This question arises because while we all encounter careers informally early in life, seeing our parents head to the office, ply their trade, or manage a family business; there is much more impact that organizations can achieve by actively accommodating young people in career exploration opportunities.

South Africa currently grapples with a critical skills shortage across various sectors, necessitating the inspiration and education of high school learners in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Addressing this need, the Societal Impact Task Team at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Centre for Tuberculosis Research, alongside Stellenbosch University’s (SU) Department of Biomedical Sciences and the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI), collaborated for the 2024 Generation Science (Gen S) Campaign.

The Gen S initiative strategically coincided with Youth Month, offering STEM school students an immersive experience in scientific disciplines such as Molecular Biology, Human Genetics, Immunology, Medical Physiology, and Clinical Anatomy. From June 18 to 21, divisions across SU’s Biomedical Research Institute (BMRI) hosted activities aimed at nurturing the next generation of scientists.

At CERI, on June 20th, the lab atmosphere at CERI buzzed with excitement as twenty enthusiastic learners engaged in Next Generation Sequencing training led by Yusasha Pillay, a dedicated lab technician and Masters student. The session included an introduction to CERI, a comprehensive tour of the Genomics Centre, and a demonstration of Oxford Nanopore Technologies' Midnight Protocol on the GridION sequencer. Students witnessed the priming of a GridION flow cell, the loading of a SARS-CoV-2 library, and the setup of a sequencing run, followed by hands-on experience in these critical techniques.

“It was truly inspiring seeing the anticipation and curiosity these young learners brought to the lab. They showed an eagerness to understand complex concepts, were not afraid to ask questions and were incredibly engaged with the hands-on next generation sequencing experience. It is exciting witnessing first-hand a generation who has such inspired views of the world and confidence in how they can contribute to improving it.” said Yusasha Pillay.

Professor Lenine Liebenberg warmly welcomed the learners, setting an inspiring tone for the day. Accompanying them throughout the program was Dannie Kenny, Science Communications Manager at SU’s Divisions of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics, and Immunology, and Chairperson of the Societal Impact Task Team, who observed firsthand the students' passion for science.

"As the SU Gen S programme co-ordinator, I am privileged to spend the full four days with the learners witnessing their excitement and curiosity with each interaction with our researchers. Seeing their confidence and enthusiasm for science grow from one day to the next highlights why programmes like this are of so much value and impact," remarked Dannie Kenny.

Reflecting on this successful programme underscores the importance of investing in youth education and development. By offering a firsthand look into scientific research, programs like Gen S aim to inspire a new generation of scientists who will tackle global challenges head-on.

Looking ahead, organizations in science-based fields are prompted to consider how they can enhance the impact of Youth Month. How can more institutions create meaningful experiences that cultivate the scientific leaders of tomorrow? This reflection opens the door to innovative approaches that can shape the future landscape of scientific research in South Africa and beyond.

Figure 1: Sinalo Mbexexi one of the learners

Figure 2: Yusasha Pillay, leading the demonstration

Figure 3: Prof Lenine Liebenberg, welcoming the learners

News date: 2024-07-08


KRISP has been created by the coordinated effort of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) and the South African Medical Research Countil (SAMRC).

Location: K-RITH Tower Building
Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, UKZN
719 Umbilo Road, Durban, South Africa.
Director: Prof. Tulio de Oliveira