School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

From left: Dr Laurencia Govender with ADSA President, Ms Maria van der Merwe, and fellow Recognition Award recipient, Dr Chantell Witten of the University of the Western Cape.

Dietetics Lecturer Receives Recognition for Contributions to the Profession

Dr Laurencia Govender, a senior lecturer in UKZN’s Discipline of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, received the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) Recognition Award in the Young Dietitian category at the 2023 Nutrition Congress, hosted by ADSA and the Nutrition Society of South Africa (NSSA) for going above and beyond the call of duty in representing and developing the profession.

Nominated by her peers, Govender was one of eight nominees in her category who were adjudicated by four leading dietitians who assessed the extent of her service to the interest of dietitians, her promotion of the nutritional well-being of the community, how she represented the profession in her career, and whether her career contributes towards achieving optimal nutrition for all South Africans.

Govender attended the congress and presented a poster on research she undertook with colleagues, Dr Blessing Mkhwanazi and Professor Muthulisi Siwela, on the influence of nutritional knowledge, perceptions, socio-economic factors, and sensory properties on the consumption patterns of sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages by university students.

She was surprised to receive the award as she was not aware of her nomination and described being overwhelmed by the recognition.

‘It is such as huge honour to achieve such a prestigious award and I feel truly blessed; it shows that hard work does not go unnoticed,’ said Govender.

Govender studied at UKZN and graduated with her PhD in 2020, thanks to funding from the Water Research Commission. She had previously completed her National Research Foundation-funded master’s degree summa cum laude while working as a clinical dietitian and accredited trainer for UKZN’s fourth-year Dietetics students during their clinical rotations.

While a student, she received a Department of Health bursary that covered her undergraduate studies and completed her community service at Dundee Hospital, before working at Harry Gwala Regional Hospital (formerly Edendale Hospital).

She joined UKZN’s academic staff in March 2018, saying that her PhD studies made her realise her love of teaching and a keen interest in research.

‘I want to be at the forefront of innovation and research rather than just implementing what others have discovered,’ she said.

Govender has focused her research primarily on food-based nutrition interventions to reduce over- and under-nutrition, particularly in rural population groups of KwaZulu-Natal, motivated by her passion and enthusiasm for community and clinical nutrition.

Govender’s service to her profession includes being the KwaZulu-Natal branch chair of ADSA, and she is one of only 15 Improving Early Nutrition and Health in South Africa (ImpENSA) trainers in the country. ImpENSA, co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union, aims to facilitate continued professional development and improved relations between Higher Education and the wider economic and social environment by developing an innovative, evidence-based, blended learning programme for healthcare professionals focused on micronutrient nutrition and behaviour change during the first 1 000 days of life.

What is most rewarding about her work, says Govender, is the fact that it involves helping needy individuals, especially in vulnerable population groups, by applying nutrition knowledge and skills to empower people to make healthier lifestyle choices and subsequently enjoy a better quality of life and enhanced wellbeing.

‘I have the privilege of empowering young minds and mentoring young dietitians and love that I get to see some of my students flourish in the dietetics profession, and that I get to collaborate with other local and international researchers,’ said Govender.

Govender has received other recognition for her academic excellence, including the Joseph Baynes Estate Award for Agricultural and Environmental Science Innovation for her creative PhD research and membership of the Golden Key International Honour Society. She has also been recognised internally for her distinguished contributions to the success of blended teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and for a best impact factor publication.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied