Women Breaking Ceilings Series: Meet Kolisa Yola Sinyanya

Highlighting Kolisa Yola Sinyanya, a PhD candidate in Oceanography at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and a nominee of the inspiring fifty women in STEM South Africa, 2019.

Can we meet You?

Kolisa Sinyanya is a PhD candidate in Oceanography at the University of Cape Town (UCT). She is a member of UCT’s Advancing Womxn fellowship, Ocean Womxn. She holds a BSc Biological Sciences and Botany Honours degree from Walter Sisulu University and a Masters degree from the University of Cape Town. In 2020, she represented UCT’s Oceanography Department at the international Ocean Sciences Meeting, which was held in San Diego, California in the United States. Kolisa was one of the guest speakers at this year’s STEMi Ocean’s Oceans Day. In 2019 She was nominated as one of the inspiring fifty women in STEM South Africa and was additionally nominated as a Black Women In Science South Africa fellow in that same year. She is a science communication fanatic not just in Africa but globally and was runner up on FameLab which is the biggest science communication competition in the world. Kolisa has also taken part in TEDxUCT where she spoke about being born into apartheid, having her first steps into education under Bantu Education and fiercely building her career to what it is today. She runs a blog (www.womeninsciencehub.com) where she highlights women in STEM from all corners of the globe. Kolisa is obsessed with SCIENCE!

So tell us why you got into STEM?

Science fascinates me and this started very early in my life. I was a very curious kid who always

wanted to understand the science behind how most things work. I always knew that I wanted to be a scientist but did not think it would actually happen. Additionally, my parents always knew this, supported and encouraged me to take the STEM path. This combination of curiosity, desire and ambition, and support created the perfect stimulant for me to go for it. These are some of the reasons why I’m in STEM.

What is the one thing you would like to change or address in STEM for girls in Africa?

African girls are generally underrepresented in STEM subjects at lower grades, globally. This has implications in how interested and how high the chances are for African girls to show interest in STEM later in life. It is therefore important to recruit girls for STEM subjects and activities sooner during their upbringings. Moreover, it is highly important to have highly achieved and upcoming African women who are visible and have voices in STEM fields. We therefore should not just preach that representation matters, but we need to show up as African women in STEM and be the representation we speak of.

Do you have role-models? If you do, why did you choose them?

I definitely have role models. My mom has been my role model since childhood. In fact, I am the

woman you know today because I absorbed a number of qualities from her that nobody can ever take away from me. She taught me to be a go getter, my mom is the type of person who never gives up and I see that in myself. One of my mottos in life is, “winners never quit, and quitters never win”. Additionally, I have chosen my other role models because they model to me what a woman in STEM is what we can achieve and how to handle the negatives which come with being a woman in STEM and leadership.

Please tell us about the challenges you have faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?

Being a woman in STEM has several challenges and for us black women it is even more intense as we have to face gender-based discrimination and racial profiling. The most prominent challenge for me is having to handle individuals who try to make life hard for you (and unwittingly themselves) in the workplace. I’m not sure if I can call it overcoming, but I usually use such incidences to my advantage and most importantly they become a page in my story and enhance my lessons on how to deal with the various challenges in the workplace.

What is your advice to young girls or budding women in STEM?

My advice to young girls and budding women in STEM is to be brave! Go for your dreams because you can never know what you are capable of and your full potential until you apply yourself. Seek advice and keep your eye on the prize.

What comes to your mind when you hear “Women Breaking Ceilings”?

This question made me a little emotional because I am about to describe what I think “Women

Breaking Ceilings” is and you have chosen me to be one of these women. That is surreal.

To me, these are powerful women who have changed the world/ are changing the world, challenge the status quo and are creating a new improved high definition image of what a woman is. These are independent women, conquerors in their respective fields, they are innovative and an embodiment of “some women fear the fire and some women simply become the fire!”.

Please share your social media handles you’d like people to reach you on.

LinkedIn: Kolisa Yola Sinyanya

Twitter: @Kolie_Yola

Instagram: @kolieyola

This month is Women’s  month in South Africa. Do you have anything you’d like to share with young women and girls as we celebrate Women’s month for 2020?

I would like to encourage all women and girls to be their own blessers (South African jargon for

sugar daddy). Having your own can save you from a lot of violence and dismay. Happy Women’s month to everyone.

Thank you.

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