Feature Friday: Steven Bradshaw – Rock Climber, Distinguished Professor, Friend.

Steven Bradshaw: Rock Climber, Distinguished Professor, Friend.

Prof Bradshaw started his career at SU 32 years ago in 1989! Greatly loved among colleagues and students alike, he has been a rock solid part of our development as a world-class department. The institution recently conferred the title of Distinguished Professor upon Steven, which is awarded in recognition of SU academics who have reached the pinnacle of achievement in their university careers. “Steven is a relentlessly sophisticated, young and restless soul. He is always after what is right and what is just. He is a natural user of high English that even the Shakespeare would have loved to listen to, and I am sure he could dub Jane Austen novels after his retirement. I call him pink Titanium because he was donning his pink leotard outfit during mountaineering heydays and secondly because of his high strength to weight ratio which can only be matched by Kryptonite. I am grateful that I have such a kind colleague”, says Prof Guven Akdogan, one of his long-time colleagues.

We asked him to reflect on his career and share some of his wisdom.

Tell us about the start of your career at SU.
My first day in the Department was 3rd of July 1989 – and I arrived wearing an Italian double-breasted jacket and tie! I was fortunate enough to have the world’s most sought-after academic position, that of Senior Researcher. I started full-time lecturing in July of the following year.

What do you consider your career highlight(s)?
When I look back on my career, the period that stands out most is the time I worked in the area of microwave processing of materials. We had a very strong international research group with partners in the UK and Finland, and significant industrial funding from a number of major companies. I worked with great colleagues, particularly Prof Sam Kingman from The University of Nottingham, and greatly enjoyed the mix of academic research and industrial implementation. Our team won a major award in the UK for our work developing a microwave technology for decontaminating drill cuttings from undersea oil exploration. I have been fortunate enough to win a number of other awards during the course of my career, but those seem less important than being able to make a positive difference in a student’s education. I think that is a real highlight.

What is the best advice that you ever received from a mentor?
Prof David Glasser was my main PhD supervisor in the late 1980s at the University of the Witwatersrand. He was an outstanding academic, in all senses of the word, and I learned a tremendous amount from him for which I am extremely grateful. He once told us that all his best ideas had come from listening to talks in subject areas outside his speciality. This might be the most valuable thing he told me. Just before I started my job at Stellenbosch I asked him what to do if students asked questions that I could not answer, and he told me that I should tell them that I didn’t know, but would find out and get back to them.

“I have had the privilege to know Steven as a lecturer, supervisor, chairperson, colleague and friend. A truly professional engineer, accomplished academic and one of the most charismatic lecturers you can find. His passion for teaching and developing the minds of young engineering students are second to none, and he has certainly had a big impact on my life at the Department. The Process Engineering Department would certainly not be where it is today if it were not for his selfless contributions and dedication over 32 years and counting”, says Petrie van Wyk, lecturer at the Department.

What is your best advice to prospective and current students?
Higher education is an astoundingly rich opportunity to learn, and learning is something we should all be doing with passion throughout our entire lives. Use this opportunity like it will never come again, and never stop learning.

Edward Bras, one of his current postgraduate students, says: “Professor Bradshaw has had a remarkable positive impact on my confidence as an undergraduate and postgraduate student. As supervisor, he allows the student to truly embrace academic development, to gradually become an independent thinker and he provides insightful feedback”.

What are your hobbies and personal interests?
Hmmm. I have normal hobbies like reading and music and so on, but I always imagine we all do those things. However, I have an overwhelming passion for rock climbing. I’m a rock climber – that’s how I think of myself. I have climbed at a high standard for over 40 years and still spend all my free time climbing.

We are proud and lucky to have Steven as part of our Departmental team. His empathic approach to listening, supportive approach to teaching and supervising, and compassionate approach to leadership, makes him a truly invaluable part of the Department.

Photos: Steven with his daughters, Mirella and Melissa, whom he lovingly refers to as his “life’s work”, and Steven in his element whilst rock climbing.