In the first of our series on (extra) Ordinary academics in ECP, we profile Prof Beatrice Opeolu, the ECP Coordinator in the Faculty of Applied Science. Prof Opeolu was recently appointed to full professor, a significant first for our ECP community at CPUT. To celebrate this significant achievement, we sat down with Beatrice and asked her to share her academic journey. What we discovered is a story about a passionate researcher and academic who cares deeply about education, the environment and humanity, and who wants to make the world a better, safer and cleaner place for the next generation.
A distinguished academic career
Beatrice suggests she always wanted to be a scholar of international repute from the time she started her undergraduate degree in Environmental Management and Toxicology at the University of Agriculture in Nigeria. In pursuing this dream she went on to complete her Masters degree in Environmental Biology at the University of Ibadan, Ibadan and then her PhD at the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta. However, she knew that great sacrifices had to be made in order to achieve her academic aspiration which brought her to CPUT in 2008, when she accepted a Postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Chemistry. Nigeria’s loss was certainly CPUT’s gain as Beatrice quickly established herself as a serious and dedicated researcher and lecturer. She was appointed as the Coordinator, Extended Curriculum Programmes for the Faculty of Applied Sciences in 2011. Her hard work was rewarded when she was appointed Associate Professor. Describing herself as an environmental scientist, Beatrice’s research areas, which she describes as being at the ‘core’ of all her activities in her academic career, includes Environmental management and toxicology with a specific focus on water systems. This research topic might seem far removed from helping humanity. But at its essence the primary focus of Beatrice’s research is the pursuit of providing safe and healthy living environments especially for poorer community and finding sustainable and affordable ways of protecting our water systems. Achieving the title of full professor means that Beatrice is recognised internationally in her field and is an active, contributing scholar and leader in various research and scholarly networks. Currently, she is the Leader of CPUT’s Climate Change and Environment Research Focus Area. She is also the Vice-president of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) Africa Geographic Unit and she co-chairs its Global Membership Committee.
Making an indelible mark on ECP
In 2011 Beatrice accepted the post of ECP coordinator in the Faculty of Applied Science and set about to establish and build a solid platform from which the ECP domain in the faculty could flourish. Over the past seven years Beatrice has become a formidable champion for ECP in her faculty and has been at the forefront of placing ECP at the centre of the academic project in the 10 departments that offer an ECP pathway. She works closely with HoDs and ensures that academics teaching on ECP programmes have good exposure to staff development opportunities that can ensure quality and enriched teaching and learning experiences for students in their courses. Prof Opeolu has also been a strong advocate of the NBTs which has allowed her to develop a strong body of evidence to define the student academic profiles of prospective students and therefore ensure more responsive curricula and pedagogic interventions. On Beatrice’s wishlist for ECP is an expansion of the provision to the many students identified through the NBTs as needing the kind of academic support currently only provided to ECP students. She would also like to see the improvement of infrastructural provisions necessary to provide students with the kinds of academic and learning spaces conducive to their learning and success. However, improved throughput rates and student success cannot be achieved without dedicated, well trained and committed staff – thus providing lecturers who teach on ECP with the necessary levels of job security and stability is another goal high on Beatrice’s agenda.
Role model, teacher, researcher, environmental warrior, ECP champion, professor – these are just some of the identities Prof Opeolu comfortably embraces on any given day, and that together provides the inspiration for the many students and colleagues who have crossed her path.