INSPIRATION: Nuclear Scientist Senamile Masango

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Growing up, I wanted to be an optician. My father had sight problems and I wished for a job that would help me make his life easier. However, in my late high school years, I found out that I loved the pen and journal more than anything, so here I am now, a journalist and writer. Unlike me, some people know what and who they want to be at a young age and never let go of their dream no matter the hurdles.

Today’s story is about Senamile Masango, who discovered a love for science and astronomy at the young age of 11. One lesson about astronauts changed her life and she never imagined herself doing anything different.

Masango worked hard academically and excelled. At the age of 16, she had already enrolled at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, pursuing a degree in science. Like many of us, she was consumed by the joys and freedoms of student life and ended up falling pregnant prematurely.

“I was not that responsible so I made mistakes and ended up pregnant. I also failed some of my modules,” she recalled in an interview with Global Citizen.

Masango, who came from a very strict home, had to quit varsity for several years. Though she had made a mistake, she did not let it deter her from pursuing her goals. She resumed studies in 2009, graduating in 2010.

She went on to live in Cape Town in 2016 and obtained a master’s degree in nuclear physics, with a distinction. The following year, Masango made history by becoming the first African woman to be part of an African-led experiment at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), headquartered in Switzerland.

Indeed, when one is determined to succeed, they stop at nothing. Currently, Masango is a postgraduate nuclear physics researcher at the University of Western Cape.

The nuclear physicist, who also has a passion for helping black women and girls, set up a foundation to ensure young girls participate more in STEM subjects. Though Masango learnt at a school that had well-furbished computer and science labs, she knows the struggle rural and underprivileged children face.

She launched Senamile Masango Foundation in 2014. In her interview with Global Citizen she said,

“It addresses challenges that are faced by women in science. It also provides leadership and role models for young people wishing to enter the fields of science and technology. The number of women in engineering and science has been of particular concern as women are still grossly under-represented, with the percentage of female graduates in science and engineering still below 20% in many countries.”

“When you educate a woman, you educate the next generation. All girls in Africa should be encouraged to take science subjects. Women are the greatest resource any country has. Providing encouragement and opportunity for girls and women in science and engineering is one of the most powerful ways of harnessing this resource for the development of the country,” she added in the same interview.

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Her foundation has been hosting online workshops since May 2020. It also has a research department and is looking into building science laboratories and providing science kits for students in under-resourced schools.

Masango’s love for science is taking her to great heights. The 33-year-old is also the youngest board member at the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (NECSA) and has been named one of South Africa’s top Black women scientists. She has also been consulted by President Cyril Ramaphosa on several occasions.

These are just a few of the achievements Masango has and yet she feels she still has a long way to go. She wants to be the first African woman to travel to space, write a book and be a seasoned motivational speaker. Despite her gender and skin colour being a setback throughout her career, Masango has managed to leave a mark.

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