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#STEMStories: Barbara, Master’s Student , South Africa

Name: Barbara Ojur               

Role/Occupation: Master’s student (MPhil Specialising in Space Studies)

Country: South Africa (I have dual citizenship, Uganda and South Africa)

Barbara Ojur is a Master’s student completing an MPhil specialising in Space Studies at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Ojur is currently building a portable low-cost Software Defined Radio (SDR) ground station to communicate with small satellites in Lower Earth Orbit (LEO).

Ojur did not know what she was getting herself into when she decided to study engineering. She simply took a lucky plunge into the degree based on her love for mathematics and physics and has been grateful for having made the correct decision since. She completed a BSc in Electrical and Computer Engineering from UCT and is currently studying towards her Master’s at the same university.

Ojur loves that engineering allows one to be creative, “you get to visualise something and bring it to life. You get to challenge yourself and solve tasks you thought you never could,” she excitedly explains.  Her advice to young women aspiring to enter the engineering field is to work hard, to know your trade and to not be afraid of making mistakes or asking questions, “Don’t be complacent and let other people do the work while you look on. Engineering is about doing tasks and you’ll never learn to do anything if you just watch,” she elaborates.

As a woman, with regards to the progress of STEM in Africa, Ojur feels that it’s great to see so many more women getting involved in this field. “It’s also good that companies are making an effort to engage with women. I think we have a long way to go but we’re moving in the right direction,” she states.

Presently, Ojur experiences many eureka moments while working on her Master’s thesis, “being able to overcome challenges and having them propel me forward has shown me that I should not limit my possibilities,” she elaborates.

Ojur has volunteered at WomEng (Women in Engineering), an NGO that engages both working female engineers and young woman interested in joining engineering related fields and at Girl Hype, an NGO that teaches girls to code over the weekends and also provides young girls with help with STEM related courses.

Ojur was also a director at 67 games,  a project for Africans to build 67 games for Mandela Day 2016. The project functions as an educational platform. “It’s a platform to show Africans that we need to create our own games instead of always consuming games from others,” she emphasises. She worked on a game that teaches children about their rights, such as the right to go to school and the meaning of being healthy.

As studying involves being sedate for long periods of time, Ojur makes a point of exercising at least five times a week. “It’s important to exercise and give your analytical brain some rest,” she emphasises. She also takes personal time outs and spends time with family and friends. As a model, she is also involved in the fashion industry and this provides another creative release for her.

Read more about Geeky Girl, Barbara Ojur, a combination of beauty and brains in an interview which push you out of your ‘orbit’ into a new intellectual ‘space'.

1. Describe what your work entails?

I am currently building a portable low-cost Software Defined Radio (SDR) ground station to communicate with small satellites in Lower Earth Orbit (LEO)

2. Describe your engineering journey?

I literally chose engineering because I liked maths and physics. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was blessed that it was the right choice. I have a BSc in Electrical and Computer Engineering from UCT and now I’m working towards my Master’s in space studies at UCT as well.

3. What excites you about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning?

I love that engineering allows you to be creative. You get to visualise something and bring it to life. You get to challenge yourself and solve tasks you thought you never could, and that’s what excites me the most.

4. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the STEM space?

It’s been good so far. Fortunately, enough I’ve been blessed to have very supportive people around me both male and female.

5What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the engineering field?

Work hard and know your trade. Don’t be complacent and let other people do the work while you look on. Engineering is about doing tasks and you’ll never learn to do anything if you just watch. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or to ask questions, EVER.

6. As a STEM woman in Africa, how do you foresee the growth and progress of STEM on the continent? Is Africa a “land of opportunity”?

From a woman’s point of view, it’s good to see more woman getting involved in this area. It’s also good that companies are making an effort to engage with women. I think we have a long way to go but we’re moving in the right direction.

7. Have there been any milestone moments or eureka moments in your career?

Yes, there are many milestones. Currently I experience many Eureka moments while working on my thesis. Being able to overcome challenges and having them propel me forward has shown me that I should not limit my possibilities.

8. How do you maintain a work-life balance?

I exercise at least five times a week because studying involves sitting down for long periods. It’s important to exercise and give your analytical brain some rest. I also make sure that I see my friends on the weekend, spend time with my family and take personal time outs. I’m also involved in the fashion industry so that is also another release for me.

9. Who is your role model? Who inspires you?

My parents. They’ve always encouraged me to study and never placed unrealistic standards on me.

10. Where can more information or insight into your work be found?

If anyone is interested in finding out what I'm doing cot the moment or about space in general they can contact the SpaceLab at UCT and our program administrator would be more than happy ' to explain what we're all about. If you wish to contact me you can email me at this barbsapiligmail.com

Twitter Handle@Barbs_apili

Barbara Ojur  interviewed by Dhruti Dheda

Dhruti Dheda is a Chemical Engineer with a strong interest in media and communication. She is the editor of the Engineers without Borders South Africa Newsletter and the Community Manager – South Africa and Regional Outreach for Geeky Girl Reality. If you wish to collaborate or network, contact her at dhruti@geekyreality.com or find her on twitter @dhrutidd