Even waste can change the world

Professor Romeela Mohee, vice-chancellor of the University of Mauritius, is determined to empower the island's women

Professor Romeela Mohee, vice-chancellor of the University of Mauritius, is determined to empower the island's women

Professor Romeela Mohee has changed the chemistry of academia in Mauritius, evolving her interest in science as a 13-year-old intrigued by the sugar farms on her home island and taking her studies to international heights, achieving multiple degrees, myriad honours and global recognition through meaningful partnerships. 

She is a well-known expert in the solid waste management and waste-to-energy sectors on the African continent, and her research work has been translated to adapt to the societal and industrial needs of her country, as well as being adopted by policymakers, the industry, and by the Mauritian community at large.

She is the first female vice-chancellor at the University of Mauritius, and was the first woman to join the engineering faculty at that university with an engineering degree in hand, which she achieved in France on a scholarship. She holds a PhD from the University of Mauritius in collaboration with Clemson University, US, under a Fulbright Scholarship. She went on to establish the University of Mauritius’ department of chemical engineering, which she headed from 1996, where she launched two B.Eng degrees in Chemical and Environmental Engineering, and Chemical and Sugar Engineering. 

Throughout her career, Mohee has brought about change in the various positions that she has occupied, be it by empowering girls and women by promoting their role in engineering education or through her research, which has significantly contributed to combating poverty in many community groups.

Often the only girl in her maths and engineering classes, she has constantly encouraged girls to enrol in engineering degrees. In fact, the rate of enrolment of girls in chemical engineering at the University of Mauritius is around 50% within the faculty, and most of her MPhil/PhD students are young women.

Mohee has focused on the practical applications of chemistry to make a positive impact in Mauritius, especially in waste management on the island. She also recently developed a strategic 2015-2020 plan that charts the way forward for the University of Mauritius, which focuses on applied research that will benefit the Mauritian community. 

She is also undertaking a reform of the Academic Promotion Exercise at the university to recognise research uptake and community engagement activities. In addition to the distinguished positions that Mohee has occupied so far, her contribution in integrating high-level research into the community is remarkable. 

She is involved in various community-based projects where she has promoted the use of low-cost technologies with available materials, to empower people financially and to give them the confidence to make decisions that improve the wellbeing of their society. 

One of her projects was to enhance the livelihood of women at Grand-Sable, a region in Mauritius which is vulnerable to climate change. She led hands-on training on the composting of organic wastes and the impact on carbon balance was assessed. The women used the compost to grow medicinal plants and other vegetables, providing them with an alternate income source. Her books Waste Management Opportunities in Rural Communities and Composting in a Tropical Ecosystem are filled with practical methods that even children can follow.