TUT’s first female head of Architecture and alumna receives doctorate

by Mosima Rafapa

30 October 2023

Tariené Gaum, an Alum from the Tshwane University of Technology’s Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, broke a new barrier for women following her appointment as the first female Head of Department at the Department of Architecture and Industrial Design. Her sheer determination and dedication to academic excellence led her to obtain the Doctorate. She received the qualification during the University’s Spring Graduations on 23 October 2023.

Dr Tariené Gaum.

Gaum had much to celebrate in 2023, receiving her well-deserved qualification and being appointed first female Head of the Department of Architecture and Industrial Design on 3 July. She attributes a significant portion of her academic achievements to Prof Jacques Laubscher, the former HoD. In an interview, she reflected on her time as a TUT student and on living her dream.

Please tell us about your student years and what inspired your decision to enrol for study in the built environment
There has never been another option for me but Architecture. I cannot tell you why, but since high school, I was determined to study architecture and its relationship to the built environment. My path was not always easy, I was not accepted the first time, but I was committed to studying Architecture at TUT. As I progressed from an undergraduate to a post-graduate student, I increasingly realised that Architects have the unique ability to change people's lives, transform environments and truly make a difference in the world. 

What inspired you to further your studies? Has it always been the plan when you were a student?
No, it has not always been my plan to further my studies, become an academic or the HoD of Architecture. Being the first graduate in my family, I honestly thought that I would complete my BTech degree, find a job and maybe later pursue a Master’s degree, if even possible at all. However, not long after completing my Master’s degree, the previous HoD, Professor Laubscher, one day phoned me, asking whether I would be interested in joining his research project focusing on Building Energy Codes and sustainability in buildings. I jumped at the opportunity and obviously, I have never looked back. 

How did it feel to fill the big shoes of Prof Jacques Laubscher, former HoD?
I do not think there is a way to accurately describe the feeling of stepping into the shoes of an inspiring man such as Prof Laubscher. He played an integral part in shaping the department into what it is today. He steered the department with a clear vision towards achieving academic excellence, providing opportunities and placing students at the heart of the academic programme. I was fortunate enough to have Prof Laubscher as both my Master's and Doctoral supervisor. He has provided me with invaluable guidance, advice and support throughout. He has taught me most of what I know, encouraged me and provided insight that has shaped my research, academic identity and professional career.  Although I am incredibly grateful to still have him as a supervisor, mentor, colleague and friend, I believe it is essential for me to walk in my unique pair of shoes.

Please tell us about your academic achievements.
I started my journey at TUT in 2012 as a first-year Architecture student and completed my undergraduate qualification with 13 distinctions. In December 2016, I completed an MTech in Architectural Technology at TUT, with an average of 70%. I recently obtained my Doctorate of Architecture degree, co-authored three published peer-reviewed journal papers, three conference proceeding papers and presented my research at numerous international conferences. I also received three international awards for session best presenter, best special focus paper and overall best presenter at various conferences. 

What is the title of your dissertation?
Building Energy Codes in the Global South: Comparing selected variables to develop a decision-making tool addressing energy efficiency and sustainable energy in buildings.

How does your research contribute to the current body of knowledge in the Built Environment?
The research aimed to address the current lack of knowledge regarding Building Energy Efficiency Codes (BEECs) and sustainability mechanisms in the Built Environment of Global South countries. The most significant contribution of the research was establishing the first-ever database of BEECs and using it to develop an innovative decision-making tool for policymakers. The research aims to provide all Global South countries with a pathway to formulate contextually appropriate BEECs and ultimately assist in moving closer to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 2050 climate-change targets.

How important is it to produce impactful research that contributes to development and sustainability? 
I believe that producing impactful research that contributes to development and sustainability is crucial for fostering innovation, addressing global climate change challenges and ensuring the livelihood of both current and future generations. Impactful research serves as a powerful tool in the ongoing efforts to confront the social inequalities of the world, ultimately contributing to new knowledge, providing possible solutions and establishing relevant platforms.

What should future researchers be gearing towards?
Future researchers should be geared towards addressing the pressing challenges of our time, advancing knowledge systems, and promoting innovation in various disciplines. These could range from addressing the criticality of public health systems, developing educational skills programmes, providing climate change solutions and integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) as well as Machine Learning into the research landscape.  Future researchers should be adaptable, curious and open to change, as the advancement of every single discipline is crucial to developing strategies that address global challenges and ensure that research continues to impact positively on society.

What is your advice to fellow researchers or students pursuing postgraduate studies? What kept you going?

My advice would be to persevere. Even when it seems impossible, stay committed, stay curious and stay focussed on your long-term goals until you reach a breakthrough (it is inevitable). I believe it is extremely important for students to be determined, hard-working, and, most of all, passionate about their research. I am excited for the future of researchers and academics at this institution. 

What are your academic plans after your doctorate qualification?
Like most people, I dream of changing the world with my research… I look forward to the next chapter as HoD, developing my leadership skills and growing with the Department of Architecture and Industrial Design as we embark on a new journey. My future vision for the Department is to provide the staff and students with the necessary support and leadership to achieve excellence and future-ready graduates.

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