Youth Month 2023: Avelile Cishe

Youth Month 2023: Avelile Cishe

June is Youth Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the Youth of the NRF who are advancing knowledge, transforming lives, and inspiring a nation. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us.

Mr Avelile Cishe is a BSc Honours student in Natural Resource Management at Nelson Mandela University (NMU) as well as an Assistant Coordinator for Supplemental Instruction within NMU’s Learning Development Department. He is currently funded by the NRF.

How did your journey start?

I was born and raised in a beautiful village called Mhlohlozi in the Willowvale region of the Eastern Cape. Willowvale is about 30km southeast of Idutywa. I was raised by my grandmother (Ndlangi). Growing up, my grandmother always instilled the principles of education, respect, and continuous improvement. My social life has always revolved around sports, with soccer being central to my heart.

I started schooling at Mhlohlozi Junior Secondary School and finished high school at Fort Malan Senior Secondary School. After a couple of challenges with funding in 2017, I was privileged to be accepted to enrol for a Diploma in Forestry at NMU in 2018. I received a bursary from the then DAFF (now the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment) for my first year and later accepted a bursary offer from Sappi Southern Africa for my second and third years.

After finishing my Forestry Diploma, I worked for Sappi Forests in KwaZulu-Natal for a year in 2021 then returned to university to do my Advanced Diploma in Forestry which I finished last year, thanks to the funding from Sonae Arauco and the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing Sector Education and Training Authority (FP&M SETA).

Growing up, I wanted to be a teacher. As a result, when I applied at NMU, my choice of study was a Bachelor’s degree in Education. Forestry was an option just to fill in the application, with no interest whatsoever. Surprisingly, I first got admitted for Forestry while the Education degree application was still pending evaluation. Shortly after my final admission, I got a funding offer letter from the DEFF to study Forestry and I accepted it right away because I wanted to study, and a financial guarantee meant everything to me after my funding struggles in 2017.

My involvement in the industry from my second year of study, which I spent with Sappi Forests in Mpumalanga under the excellent mentorship of Mr Bernardus Meyer who taught me practical Forestry, sparked a huge interest and passion for Forestry within me. My lecturers, particularly Prof Josua Louw, also made me fall in love with this industry. From my second year, I started reading widely and engaging in various forestry platforms and I discovered that my true passion is within the research space within Forestry. From then on, I never looked (and never will look) back. So, in a nutshell, Forestry chose me and I said a big yes. In terms of my early-career aspiration of being a teacher, I think I still fulfil that because I do lecture at university from time to time.

How has your affiliation with the NRF impacted your studies/ career?

The funding from NRF will help me to successfully carry out my research project throughout the year. All my research trials are established in Mpumalanga and the funding will help with all related research costs. It will also help to pay for my university-related costs such as accommodation and tuition. I also think receiving such a prestigious research grant is a major achievement for my career as an early-career researcher and motivates me to keep on moving to the upper ranks in the academic and research space.

Did you have to overcome any obstacles to be where you are today, and what did you learn from it?

Definitely! I did not get funding to study after matric. I then took a gap year and informally worked for a full year before joining NMU. I think that is one of the reasons why I was motivated to achieve good academic results because I know the struggle of wanting to study but not having funding. Other challenges were general and academic-related, mostly in my first year when I had to adapt from high school to university level, but what is life without challenges?

What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

My research is multidisciplinary within my industry in a way that incorporates a variety of subject areas. It involves forest management, growth and yield science, statistical modelling, silviculture, and forest mensuration. My project seeks to evaluate the impacts of planting density on tree growth and rotation end volume and profitability on a pulpwood regime.

How can your work/studies advance knowledge, transform lives, and inspire a nation?

Ultimately, we aim to develop growth and yield models that the forest industry in South Africa can use to do volume predictions for harvest scheduling and resource economics related to profitability and costing – both at strategic and operational levels. The appropriate selection of the optimum planting densities for the correct regime, while understanding the costs and profits linked to those planting densities, will help to increase the total incremental growth, rotation end yield (volume), and profits while lowering the input costs.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

To be raised by such a loving and caring grandmother is my first achievement in life. In the academic space, I graduated with my first qualification cum laude and my second one with a grade point average of 81.8%. I have also received numerous accolades from my university. While I was with Sappi, I completed more than 25 courses in different disciplines, for example, auditing, financial accounting, risk management, project management, business management, environmental management, statistics, and many others. I have also done some training and projects with companies such as the Centre for People and Forests (Thailand), Udemy, Harvard University, International Union of Forest Research Organizations (Austria), International Forestry Students Association (Germany), European Forest Institute (Finland), Environmental Conservation Network (Tanzania) and many others.

Education is expensive, and research even more. I have also held several leadership positions of global influence, the current one being the Head of the International Forestry Students Association for the Southern African Development Community region. In this role, I manage local forestry committees in more than eight countries in the SADC region. I also represent in strategic and research forums in Government and industry. I also serve on the Forestry and Wood Technology advisory boards of five Higher Education institutions within the region.

Apart from my accolades, I have successfully mentored students from high schools and university. I count that as an achievement because I like helping people. I still do career advisory and motivation talks and community engagements at nearby high schools.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

I plan to continue to do my MSc and PhD in Forestry. I aim to be a university professor and forest scientist, recognised for my research and teaching, while also collaborating with other scholars in various fields and disciplines to carry out applied research for the benefit of society at large. I also aspire to be an NRF A-rated researcher in the future.

This work is licenced under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 South Africa (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 ZA) license. Please view the terms for republishing here.

Related Posts