[WOMEN’S DAY] Meet three young SA women doing amazing things in STEM

There are so many phenomenal women working in the science, tech, engineering and maths in South Africa who are making great strides, representing the power women possess and are paving the way for other young girls to follow in their footsteps.

We’ve picked just three who’ve achieved a lot in their respective fields and are not showing signs of stopping any time soon.

Cecilia Haak

Electrical engineer at Aurecon South Africa – @ceciliahaak


Haak knew from a very young age what she wanted to do with her life. “When I was very small, about five or seven years old, my mother found me outside in the garden the one evening staring at the full moon. We then spoke a bit about it, and she told me that men had walked on the moon, but no women. At that moment I decided that I wanted to be the first woman to walk on the moon, and so I planned on becoming an astronaut,” she explains.

“As I grew older I realised that becoming an astronaut would be very difficult, so instead I set my heart on building spaceships and rockets. That’s why I decided to study mechanical engineering at the University of Pretoria (UP), with specialisation in aeronautical engineering.”

While studying, Haak was offered a bursary from a company called IST Nuclear which was designing a new generation nuclear power station called the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR). After graduating from the UP, she went to work at IST Nuclear’s PBMR.

After about two years at IST Nuclear, the South African Government stopped funding the work. It was during this time that Haak decided go back to her dream of building spaceships and rockets and she went to do a master’s degree in space science at Aeronautics and Astronautics Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Haak moved on to work at the South African Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project offices in Johannesburg, where she was mainly responsible for all the power and electricity related aspects of the telescope.

Right now Haak is at Aurecon South Africa‘s the Energy Services Department and wrapping up her master’s degree at Stellenbosch University.

Asha Ranchhod

Senior industry manager at Google South Africa – @AshaRanchhod


Asha Ranchhod holds degrees in Informatics from the University of Johannesburg, Honours Cum Laude in Marketing Management from UNISA, and Wits and Henley Business Schools certifications. She works as a Senior Industry Manager at Google South Africa and is passionate about all things digital. Her first two years at Google saw Ranchhod working closely with banking and loans brands but lately, her focus has been on building the online ecosystem with brands within fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industries.  

At the tender of 16, Ranchhod was elected to the Junior City Council of Klerksdorp and at age 17 served as President of Interact , a division of Rotary International. She was also selected as one of 16 to represent Google at One Young World in 2013, a gathering of young leaders from 190 countries with the aim of tackling global issues such as climate change, poverty, education and gender equality.

Ranchhod occupied a position in marketing and CRM at The Mobile Games Company for two years an went on to be one of the founding members of the digital marketing team at Standard Bank Group where she worked for four years prior to joining Google. Her role today entails driving digital and mobile marketing across the bank’s operations in Africa within retail, business banking and sponsorships areas.

Ranchhod was recently nominated as one of Mail & Guardian’s 2014 top 200 Young South Africans.

I’m really excited to see how technology is changing lives on a daily basis, especially across Africa. I’m even more excited to see women take on leading roles across digital and this is what drives me to keeping my contribution to women in the tech industry alive for as long as possible,” Ranchhod adds. 

Shammeemah Abrahams

PhD candidate at the UCT/MRC Exercise Science and Sports Medicine unit


Shameemah Abrahams is only 24 but has some major achievements under her belt already. She majored in biochemistry and physiology for her undergraduate BSc degree from 2008 to 2010 at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and was awarded a place on the Dean’s Merit list for the duration of her studies.

Abrahams completed a BSc (Med) Honours degree with distinction in physiology, specialising in neuroscience in 2011 at UCT. She is pursuing a PhD in Exercise Science at the UCT/MRC Exercise Science and Sports Medicine research unit based in Newlands, Cape Town.

Her research project involves the identification of both the non-genetic and genetic factors predisposing concussion injury in South African adolescent rugby. “As a consequence of the severity of concussion injury, especially in the youth, my research is geared towards investigating the underlying physiological mechanisms increasing susceptibility to concussion as well as the neurological changes that occur during recovery from injury,” says Abrahams.

Abrahams has co-authored two research articles thus far; one on genetic effect on flexibility and performance in endurance athletes (as part of her Honour’s work) and the other a review article on potential risk factors for sports concussion. She’s presented part of her Honour’s work at the 18th Annual Congress of the European College of Sports Science in Barcelona in June last year. She was also one of three students to receive the Masters’ fellowship category award at the South African Women in Science Awards (WISA) in 2013.

“With regard to my future plans, I am keen to continue in a research environment particularly the sport or medical fields. My research interests include brain injury, physiological changes during exercise and genetic predisposition to injury and disease,” Abrahams concludes.

[Images – Supplied]


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