Invitation - Prof Savage Celebrates 40 Years of Achievement


Profile of Professor Mike Savage


Michael Savage’s career at UKZN started in 1977 in the discipline of Agrometeorology in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES), and he has been recognised for his innovative approach to teaching that has seen students in his discipline flourish academically. For forty years, he has been responsible for the development of all Agrometeorology course content. A passionate teacher, he is the recipient of UKZN’s 2014 Distinguished Teacher Award (DTA), known for being a teacher who will reach students on their level.

Savage’s research focus is on topics such adverse weather, biometeorology, energy balance of various surfaces, micrometeorology and open water evaporation. He developed a unique Agrometeorological Instrumentation Mast (AIM) web-based data and information teaching, learning and research system for the agro-environmental sciences. The AIM system is used by many undergraduates and postgraduates and features real-time data for a number of agrometeorological measurements, provided by a number of instruments set up around campus, which can be viewed and downloaded for use in research and as a visual teaching aid. It has also led to the publication of papers in local and international journals.

Savage has also initiated the creation of an isiZulu-English glossary of terms for Agrometeorology, to attempt to counter the language barrier to learning encountered by many second language English speakers entering university in South Africa. He emphasises the use of live data, visual literacy, technology and glossaries to stimulate growth in the isiZulu language’s capacity for scientific understanding. He believes that technology can play an important role in the learning of students, and mentions the importance of visual literacy or ‘iconic’ learning to transcend cultural and linguistic barriers. He is keen to see scientific societies contribute to the creation of technical dictionaries in traditional African languages so that knowledge can be transferred equally. Noticing that many of the students entering the second year courses in Agrometeorology are seriously lacking in basic computer skills, Savage and his colleagues include an intensive computer literacy training element in their second-year practical sessions, leading to a marked improvement in the students' skills. Savage has begun advocating for this kind of intensive computer literacy training at second-year level to take place across the University, having seen what a difference it has made to his students' development and eventual marketability as employees.

‘Teaching is about imparting more than just knowledge; it is also about life skills,’ said Savage. His enthusiasm for the process of Teaching and Learning was demonstrated in 2014, when Savage, despite being one of the most highly qualified academics at the University, pursued and graduated with his Master’s cum laude. Publication in an international journal in 1979 had enabled him to convert his Master’s then to a PhD. Savage also made history as the first recipient of UKZN’s Doctor of Science in Agriculture degree in 2010; the only previous DScAgric degree in the University’s history was awarded in 1998 under the then University of Natal.
Savage’s work reflects the integration of teaching and research and community engagement in a uniquely engaging, student-focused way through linking undergraduate projects to postgraduate and staff research and vice versa. He has arranged a number of workshops for the training of academics, scientists and practitioners across the country on a variety of topics, including eddy covariance.

He has also been actively involved in making science relevant and comprehensible to the general public, participating in a project with The Witness newspaper in Pietermaritzburg to investigate the temperature and human comfort conditions inside locked cars. After 40 years at the University, Savage remains enthusiastic and passionate about his subject and still pursues innovative research and dedicates time to training. He described his teaching approach as an empathetic one; he invests himself in his students and take their differing backgrounds into account as he interacts with them directly. Savage emulates the model of a teacher whose primary goal is to see his students succeed.

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