Wom(ENG)’s Month: Sandri the social butterfly, animal lover, engineer

Chemical Engineering PhD candidate Sandri Du Plessis is the Department of Chemical Engineering’s very own Wonder Woman. Between her studies, she juggles her duties as Chairperson of the Engineering Student Council, is a member of multiple academic societies, and makes time for causes that she is passionate about.   

Sandri’s enthusiasm for all she takes on is contagious, and it is with the same gusto that she explains what led her to the field of chemical engineering in the first place. “[At Montagu High School], my science teacher mentioned how she always admired the chemical engineering students for their hard work. As I looked up to my teacher, I thought it was very cool that she thought highly of the degree.” The seed was planted, and as someone who was up for a challenge, enjoyed mathematics and science, and loved the idea of working with people, Sandri decided that chemical engineering was a good fit. “I also came to a Stellenbosch University (SU) Open Day in Grade 11 and saw amazing demonstrations and how broad the field is – 10/10 would recommend!” Sandri adds.   

Under the supervision of Prof Cara Schwarz, Sandri is currently researching the high-pressure phase behaviour of organic compounds in supercritical carbon dioxide. “I think this field is so promising since supercritical fluids are (in my opinion) the future,” she explains. “[Supercritical fluids] are being investigated to replace organic solvents in a variety of processing environments. Since many of them are much cheaper, non-toxic and ‘generally regarded as safe’, they can, for example, be applied to food processing. They have so much potential!” When not busy with studies and serving on academic councils, Sandri is a member of the Animal Welfare Society Stellenbosch and the Maties PAW Society. “I try only to get involved with things that I feel extremely passionate about,” she says. “Prioritising is key, and the ‘why’ of doing something is what keeps me motivated.” Sandri adds that she also enjoys developing her non-academic skills to become a more well-rounded person and engineer. Her hobbies include painting, playing computer games, bingeing shows like Criminal Minds, and drinking an abundance of coffee (yes, she says, the latter is a hobby!).   

A daily inspiration to Sandri is her supervisor, Prof Schwarz, the first woman in the history of the SU Engineering Faculty to be promoted to full professor. “I do not know how she does it all. From supervising us and teaching to serving on the Faculty Management Committee, Senate, the Academic Committee, being a journal co-editor, and probably so much more. I have so much respect for all that she does and how she does it so well.” In honour of Women’s Month, Sandri has the following advice to young girls with a dream of one day becoming chemical engineers: “Imposter syndrome is real; even after you graduate, you might not feel worthy of saying ‘I am an engineer’ – but don’t allow the world to tell you what you are capable of. Fake it ‘till you make it, believe in yourself and don’t shy away from a challenge. Yes, chemical engineering is challenging, but if it were easy, everyone would do it.”

Complete the sentence:  

I am… a social butterfly and animal lover who talks too much, talks too loud and drinks way too much coffee. I am an engineer.