Recently appointed a vice dean in the Faculty of AgriSciences, Prof Pieter Gouws will focus on teaching and learning in his new position. Gouws worked at the University of the Western Cape’s Department of Biotechnology for over 20 years, where he was also the head of the department. He joined SU’s Department of Food Science in 2014.

According to him, it was while he was studying at SU many years earlier that he decided that food microbiology would be the career path for him. In his new position, Gouws also hopes to inspire the next generation of scientists to follow the same career direction.

“The contribution of food scientists to society is huge. Every day, you need food scientists because you have breakfast, lunch and dinner. So, to look at food security, food safety and new products, you depend on food scientists. They’re actually part of your life every day. So many people get a degree and don’t know what to do afterwards. I think food scientists know quite well. After their third or fourth year, they know what they want to do and where they want to go, that they have a passion for it.”

Gouws grew up on a farm in the small Karoo town of Prince Albert. Being the first in his family to go to university, he understood the value of higher education and the opportunities that it could afford him. Gouws holds a BSc and BSc Hons from SU, an MSc Food Microbiology degree from the University of Pretoria, a PhD in Food Biotechnology from the University of the Western Cape, and a postdoctoral fellowship from the University of Nottingham in England.

He is also considered an expert on listeriosis and uses biotechnological techniques to improve the microbial safety of food.

Gouws believes that the role of the lecturer is important to advance and grow academic institutions and develop new research. “I want students to have a very holistic approach to their studies. Lecturers play a very important role in student development. I don’t always think they realise how important their role is. They can make or break a student. The new students on campus are very different from those 20 or 30 years ago, so what worked for us won’t always work for them. One must involve them in a holistic class approach, where there’s open communication between the student and the lecturer but also among students themselves, which is important.”

In his new position, Gouws hopes to explore new methods for assessing students. He would like to see a more flexible assessment process, where there is extra teaching time and more opportunities for students to take on new subjects outside their study discipline. “I like the flexible continuous assessment people use. I think it plays a very important role in the development of a student. To over-assess a student isn’t good either. There must be a goal in assessment at the end of the day. So, if students do something for a project, they need to find value and learn something from it.”

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