Prof Deborah Blaine was recently elected as President of the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineering (SAIMechE) for the period 2018 to 2020. Prof Blaine is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University.
She has been involved in the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineering since 2008 and served as Chair of the Western Cape Branch between 2011 and 2013.
Regarding her election as SAIMechE President, she says: "2018 has seen a couple of disturbing public comments regarding the place of women in science and technology. I am really pleased that SAIMechE has chosen to elect me to represent our members at this time – it reflects my experience over the past 10 years of interaction with the institution, where I have always been welcomed, encouraged, supported and acknowledged by my fellow mechanical engineering colleagues. We all know that the shape of society is changing faster than we can blink our eyes. SAIMechE has continued requests from our engineering student and early graduate engineer members for opportunities to engage with more experienced engineers, especially those who are qualified professionals (PrEng, PrTech), so that they can benefit from mentoring and insight into the profession. I hope that we can create these opportunities, to connect engineers from across the spectrum, in dynamic and interesting ways."
Prof Blaine's interests in engineering awakened at an early age when she visited her father's factory. "I liked seeing how stuff was made and the efficiency of the production line," she says. "I chose mechanical engineering, because it is the broadest of the disciplines and because it is the discipline where mechanical structures, materials and science meet."
After obtaining her BEng (Mechanical) at Stellenbosch University in 1996, she pursued her interest in materials engineering by doing a PhD in Engineering Science and Mechanics at the Pennsylvania State University in the USA, graduating in 2004. "Here I worked in my exact field of interest, namely sintered products. I was part of a strong research group led by Prof Rand German, a world-renowned expert. I had the opportunity to teach some of his classes when he went on sabbatical.
"I thought it would be good to acquire experience in industry and joined Bleistahl Produktion in Germany, the number one producer of valve seat inserts in the European Union," she adds. "I worked in the materials research and development office and helped develop a new material."
In 2007 she joined the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University and was appointed in January 2017 as the first female Associate Professor in the Department.
Prof Blaine has a passion for teaching and was a member of the founding board of the SA Society for Engineering Education. "I enjoy research, but especially teaching. While teaching some of Prof Rand's classes at Penn State, I realised how much I liked to explain things to people. I enjoy the challenge to find new ways to explain and present information when some students do not grasp it. I think this is why I became a lecturer. Helping people unpack information and build knowledge brings me immense satisfaction. I feel I can make a difference."
Photo: Prof Deborah Blaine.