School of Engineering


First Graduate of New MSc Degree Passes with Flying Colours

‘Graduation is a time to reflect on the past and look forward to the future. Completing my master’s degree was one of the best decisions I have ever made.’

These were the words of Ms Giselle Pillay, who graduated cum laude with a Master of Science in Engineering in Waste and Resource Management.

‘She is the first student to graduate from our new master’s programme, and an amazing, strong young woman!’ said her supervisor, Professor Cristina Trois, who holds the NRF South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Waste and Climate Change.

Pillay’s interest in engineering started in high school. ‘After winning the SAICE Bridge Building Competition, I discovered my interest in engineering and further research in this field led me to complete my degree in Civil Engineering.’ Her first choice of university was always UKZN. ‘I chose UKZN as it has a worldwide reputation for academic excellence and a well-structured engineering programme,’ she said.

‘This thesis satisfies the requirements of a cum laude degree and the results of this study could eventually be considered for an international publication,’ commented her external examiner.

Pillay’s research degree focused on the optimisation of waste recovery systems in the construction sector and aimed to design an economic, and social and environmentally feasible construction and demolition waste management system for eThekwini Municipality.

Her interest in waste management was sparked during her undergraduate studies when she identified the need for sustainable development in the construction industry. ‘Having graduated in 2019, when the global COVID-19 pandemic hit, I decided to make use of my time in lockdown and be part of the first batch of UKZN’s Waste and Resource Management Master’s degree,’ said Pillay.

Interaction with national and international waste management experts helped Pillay to gain advanced knowledge of waste management and sustainable development. Being surrounded by professionals motivated her to complete her research. She aspires to make a difference in the world just as they have.

Pillay is currently working for JG Afrika, where she is part of the JG Afrika and USAID Resilient Water team. She is involved in developing a national faecal waste management strategy for South Africa.

She has also taken on the role of researcher and is currently conducting a needs assessment of gender integration for sanitation partners in Africa. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the project involves gathering information on how to integrate women in the sanitation sector and reduce economic exclusion.

‘I am looking forward to the next step in my career, which is to register with the Engineering Council of South Africa as a professional engineer, progressing into project management and making a difference to society,’ said Pillay.

Words: Swastika Maney

Photograph: Supplied