Top female scientist appointed as FEBE’s new Executive Dean

25 February 2021

Dr Grace Kanakana-Katumba, a professional industrial engineer and astute scientist, joined the Tshwane University of Technology family as Executive Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment (FEBE) on 1 February 2021. 

Dr Grace Kanakana-Katumba, a professional industrial engineer and astute scientist.

She has extensive industry and higher education experience, having worked for big corporates like the Automotive Industry Development Centre (AIDC), Continental Tyres, Johnson Controls and the Lear Corporation.

Her industry experience started in the early ’90s when she was appointed at an international automotive company, Johnson Controls , one of the biggest Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) suppliers for automotive companies such as BMW and Volkswagen. After a decade at Johnson Controls, she joined the Automotive Industry Development Centre in 2006 as a project manager for the Supplier Development Programme. 

Dr Grace’s is no stranger to the University. Her first journey at TUT started in 2007, when she joined the University as a part time Lecturer in Industrial Engineering. In 2008, she was promoted to Head of the Department of Industrial Engineering and in 2013, became Assistant Dean of Teaching and Learning at FEBE. Between August 2017 and January 2018, Dr Grace also acted as Dean of FEBE.

Speaking about her vision for her tenure as Executive Dean, Dr Grace said: “In terms of programmes and positioning ourselves globally, it is vital that we instil entrepreneurship confidence in our students. Engineers, by nature, are meant to be innovative, creative and flexible.  Engineers are intended to contribute active to society, rather than being mere consumers. Graduates should never sit at home because they can’t find employment, therefore it is our responsibility to produce quality graduates who are responsive in nature, dedicated to solve societal problems and who are able to create employment, rather than being job seekers only.”

Dr Grace explained that her main objective would be to ensure all engineering programs are offered fully online in the next three years. “This will ensure that students do not have to struggle with class attendance and that they will be able to do their work online with ease. There is no denying that the world is moving fast in terms of technology, therefore things will increasingly be done online. With this, also comes the challenge of increasing support to students, which is why we would like to introduce more student online support in future. This will assist students to receive extra help with their studies and keep them actively engaged in online activities. Even when COVID-19 comes to an end, blended learning is here to stay at FEBE.”

“In addition, industry partnerships with an emphasis on building innovation value chains and industry 4.0 capabilities will be an important focus area for FEBE. Applied research in key areas of sustainable development goals will be strengthened within the faculty and internationalisation projects to support these initiatives will be implemented,” she elaborated. 

Talking about her time at UNISA, Dr Grace said; “In 2018, I was appointed as Deputy Dean at the University of South Africa (UNISA). It was an invigorating experience to be part of a university where the majority of teaching is done onlineGoing to UNISA was a huge learning curve for me. I acquired so much knowledge and skills about distance learning, which I will be able to apply in my new environment,” she said. 


In her professional career, Dr Grace has won many accolades, including the Institutional Award for Young Emerging Researcher of the Year 2015; Young Researcher of the Year in 2015; Faculty Award: Merit Award 2016 and Woman Researcher of the Year 2017. 

The recognition she has received over the years has constantly inspired her to do more. “Whether I receive recognition or not, what matters to me is to know that I have done everything to the best of my ability and that I am doing the right thing,” she added.

She is one of the founding members of Women in Engineering at TUT- in support of TUT Mechanical Engineering Lecturer, Maureen Raumaube’s vision – a body responsible for the empowerment of women in academia and industry. Another outstanding achievement was being part of the team that developed and provided leadership of the faculty’s internal review process to ensure effective quality assurance, which resulted in the faculty receiving full accreditation for the majority of the engineering programmes.

She has published widely in accredited and non-accredited journals, has participated in at least 33 local and international conferences and, between 2017 and 2019, has been invited as a plenary or keynote speaker at three conferences. She also participates in the review process for NRF applications and journal papers. In addition, she has developed the niche area for optimisation, lean Six Sigma and Smart Manufacturing. In 2019, she received a Royal Academy of Engineering research award for Smart Manufacturing worth 80 000 pounds.

Dr Grace will continue with her community outreach and engagement programmes such as the Women in Engineering and Boys to Men programmes. The latter groom young boys to become responsible citizens in their environment, especially considering the issue of gender-based violence in society.

“I definitely look forward to an exciting, innovating and rewarding five years as Executive Dean of FEBE, where we constantly work on the next big idea to disrupt the norm!” she concluded.

For more information on the Tshwane University of Technology, please contact Willa de Ruyter, Corporate Affairs and Marketing.
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