Twenty-year-old Stefanie Garises is one of the few female students at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) who are breaking barriers by getting involved in the male-dominated sciences field.
“There are not many females in specialised fields. They (females) are going for subjects where they strive for comfort than risks,” she says.
Garises is a third-year Computer Science student, specialising in software development.
She was recently chosen as one of three students from NUST to take part in a polar project where the disciplines of science and art are merged to create something that can have functional use in society.
The students will collaborate and combine their skills with three other students from Durban University of Technology (DUT) to create a smart classroom.
From a young age, Garises says she already knew who she was and what she wanted to be, and she worked hard to achieve that, which saw her attaining 40 points at Grade 12.
“I had a love for technology when I was as young as five years old and I would play around with my mom’s phone and computer,” she says.
By the age of 10, she was already taking gadgets apart and putting them back together, thus she learned a lot about computer parts and how they work.
It was when she developed a love for music at the age of 12 that her mind opened up more, and she used the technology skills she had developed to start producing songs using a computer.
“I just fell in love with music and I started writing songs. Then I started looking into how to make music from scratch using technology since I could not afford instruments,” she says.
Her mother also played a part in steering her in the right direction, as she encouraged her to do computers and accounting.
“My mom was very involved in my educational life. She says I could do whatever I wanted, but there was a need for me to know numbers,” she says.
As a learner at Delta Secondary School, Garises juggled her love for technology with other subjects and she passed with distinction.
When she applied for a place at university, NUST initially rejected her application because she had applied using results from her Grade 12 second term, but her points were not enough for her to qualify for the degree she wanted.
When she received her final results, she took them to NUST again, where she was among the first people to be selected because of her impressive points.
“When they realised that I had 40 points, they encouraged me to enroll for engineering, but I already knew what I wanted, thus I chose computer science,” she says.
From first year, the young lady hit the ground running, putting in the work and excelling.
“Time management is a big deal, so you need to prioritise because the higher you go the tougher it becomes. It is more about the effort you want to put in. Evaluate your own weakness and put more effort.
“Sacrifice on going out and just prioritise. It is those small things that matter. Think two steps ahead,” she says.
Garises says she has seen many of her fellow female students falling behind and eventually quitting and enrolling for something else.
“Try and put yourself out there, join conferences and volunteer because those are the type of things that expose you to the industry and make your interest grow,” she says.
Regarding the project, Garises says that they want to come up with something that is socially viable, especially in rural schools. Therefore, it has to be something that is manageable.
They are now in the final planning stage, where they are developing software and hardware of the product. According to the facilitator of the project, Kirstin Wiedow, the idea behind the project, which she did not want to divulge, is to change the way people think about and understand science and technology.
She says the prototype of their project will be showcased in November at the Digi-fest in Durban, which is a festival of digital arts and creativity.
Garises says that she is determined to finish her studies and go on to do an Honours as well as a Masters Degree so as to give herself a competitive advantage.
She urges parents to encourage their daughters to think outside the box from an early age, the same way boys are encouraged.
“My mother encouraged me and my siblings to be bold and to explore and that gave me room to be who I was meant to be and make my own decisions from a young age making me unafraid to take risks,” she says.
As a young girl, Garises also took part in physically active hobbies such as skate boarding, which was, at the time, not a usual sport for women.
She encourages women to take risks and join the science fraternity.
“Women should know that they can do it and do it even better,” she says.