Honorary doctorates at December graduation

10 December 2019 | From Kgethi

Dear colleagues and students

It gives me great pleasure to announce that the University of Cape Town (UCT) will, according to tradition, confer honorary doctorates on three distinguished individuals for their significant contribution to society in various fields. The recipients of the honorary doctorates that are to be presented at the December graduation ceremonies are the following respected scholars:

Professor Jonathan David Jansen: Doctor of Education (honoris causa)

Professor Jansen will receive his honorary doctorate during the Faculty of Humanities graduation ceremony taking place at 09:00 on Friday, 13 December 2019, in the Sarah Baartman Hall.

Professor Jansen graduated from the University of the Western Cape with a BSc in 1979 before pursuing a career in science as a teacher at secondary school level, later as a university researcher in curriculum studies, and finally as a university leader and influential public commentator on education in South Africa. His doctorate is from the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University in the United States, and he is currently a distinguished professor in the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University. His scholarly output is prolific and demonstrates both his attention to engaging with praxis and living a critically engaged life.

As the first black dean of education at the University of Pretoria, and the first black rector at the University of the Free State (UFS), Professor Jansen rose to prominence by inserting a thoughtful voice into national debates on both school and higher education, racial reconciliation and social transformation. At some personal cost, he held to a reconciliatory approach to the leadership challenge presented by the race-based dysfunctionality at UFS at the time.

From his time as a high school teacher to the present day, Professor Jansen has been acutely aware of the need to improve education at all levels. He has been dedicated to encouraging “courageous conversations” on what the state should do to advance education, what the public can do to hold the state to account, and what each person can do to understand better the complexities of living in a fractured and mistrustful society. As part of this, he has made his academic work relevant to the community at large through frequent columns and numerous books for public audiences, and the generous use of his time in giving public talks and working for the betterment of South African education through membership of various professional boards and charities.

Dr Georges Belfort: Doctor of Science in Engineering (honoris causa)

Professor Belfort will receive his honorary doctorate during the Faculty of Commerce graduation ceremony taking place at 14:00 on Friday, 13 December 2019, in the Sarah Baartman Hall.

Professor Georges Belfort graduated from UCT with a BSc in 1963, followed by master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of California, Irvine. He is considered one of the world’s leading biochemical engineers. Over the course of a career spanning five decades, he has contributed to the advancement of science in three principal ways: through his own groundbreaking research; as a teacher dedicated to sharing knowledge with the next generation of biochemical engineers; and as an author, editor, consultant and board member of a range of scientific organisations.

His research work has been described as transformational. In 2016 the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) held a series of honorary lectures in recognition of his role as a global expert in bio separations. Joel Plawsky, head of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said at the time: “Georges has developed extraordinary membrane modules and membrane materials and is a pioneer in the use of inteins, with his wife (Professor Marlene Belfort), for separating biological molecules. He has also made significant contributions towards understanding the process by which proteins misfold and lead to fibrils. Protein fibrils are common and cause problems with storing and delivering insulin, but they are most commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Professor Belfort has published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers and 22 book chapters, and he has authored or co-authored three books. He has an exceptional h-index of 64. Over the course of his career his work has been recognised with numerous awards, including the American Chemical Society (ACS) EV Murphree Award in Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, the AIChE Clarence Gerhold Award in Separation Science and Technology, and the ACS Award in Separation Science and Technology. In 2014 he received the Alan S Michaels Award for Innovation in Membrane Science and Technology – an award given in recognition of individuals who have made outstanding innovations and/or exceptional lifetime contributions to membrane science and technology.

As an alumnus of UCT, he has maintained contact with the Department of Chemical Engineering. The award of this honorary doctorate recognises and strengthens the link between UCT and the outstanding scholarship of Professor Belfort.

Professor Marlene Belfort: Doctor of Science (honoris causa)

Professor Belfort will receive her honorary doctorate during the Faculty of Commerce graduation ceremony taking place at 14:00 on Friday, 13 December 2019, in the Sarah Baartman Hall.

Professor Marlene Belfort graduated from UCT with a BSc in 1965, followed by doctoral and postdoctoral work at the University of California, Irvine, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is currently a distinguished professor in the departments of Biological Sciences and Biomedical Sciences at the State University of New York at Albany, and is a world-renowned scientist in the field of molecular genetics and biochemistry.

Her leading achievements include the self-splicing of introns in bacteriophage T4 and a detailed analysis of the splicing mechanism. Her demonstration that the introns are mobile, and later comparison of the endonuclease encoded by and involved in intron movement, has stimulated debate over evolutionary origins. More recently her work has led to the development of a model for the mechanism of intron evolution that is not only applicable to prokaryotes but may shed light on vertebrate genes as well.

The importance of Professor Belfort’s work has been recognised with numerous awards and honours. She has also chaired committees for a number of leading scientific organisations, published over 190 scientific papers and co-edited two books. For the past 25 years she has enjoyed continuous grant funding from the National Institutes of Health.

In addition to her research undertakings, Professor Belfort has proven exceptionally committed to teaching, training and professional service. Her dedication to mentorship – of younger scientists, technicians, undergraduates and postgraduates, and even high school pupils – has resulted in her working with dozens of PhD students who have gone on to fill top placements at leading scientific organisations around the world. Within the global scientific community, she is particularly well known for her support of women in science, winning the American Society for Microbiology Alice C Evans Award, which recognises contributions towards the participation and advancement of women in microbiology.

Beyond her hugely influential discoveries relating to introns, Professor Belfort’s prolific publication record, impeccable grant history and long-standing reputation for mentorship make her a worthy candidate for an honorary doctorate from UCT.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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