We have had kind people wishing us more coverage on this project. Capt. Kgomotso Phatsima is one of them, and we are very thankful to her for recommending Natasha to us.
Hi Natasha, thank you for being our guest for this episode of Words That Count. We are happy to have you onboard
Hi Winnie, I am interested in what you are doing. It sounds so amazing to me because I am also part of such a community. Thank you very much for reaching out, haha, it’s wonderful to know that there are people from different corners of Africa that are passionate about the same thing.
Briefly introduce yourself to the audience, please
My name is Natasha Chandapiwa Samantha Tashian Moleele from Botswana. I am an Aircraft Engineer here in my country, and in the not-so-distant future, I would like to delve into piloting. Moreover, I am a people-oriented person, so I do well to provide mentorship for young girls who want to pursue STEM-related careers, support people with their CV reviews, and help them build action plans. Also, I provide financial and strategic planning services to startups.
I am the co-founder of Women Engineers Botswana with Bonolo Mpabanga; an initiative that was formed in 2016/17 to mentor young girls to pursue STEM careers. The platform serves as a motivational tool to meet the intellectual needs and aspirations of young women in Botswana. People share stories that inspire and motivate the youth to pursue careers in Science and Engineering. We are an organisation that creates science clubs in Botswana to expose youth to STEM.
In 2017/18, I got a chance to volunteer with Dare to Dream through some work that we did with Airbus. I volunteered to teach kids Robotics, how to code and model aircraft, simulation projects, and some coding competitions. It’s something I am still doing even now – not full-time like before because I am now engaged with my job.
How did you join the worlds of aviation and engineering?
I remember quite vividly that when I was a child, my father’s sister got my cousin and me a book from a vendor walking across the street. This book talked about “Space”. As I flipped through for a while, I found the little I understood irresistibly charming. Yet, because I could not entirely grasp its stories, concepts, and ideologies, I could not tell anyone about how this book and its intriguing illustrations plus little writings appealed to me. At the time, medicine and dentistry sounded so pleasant in my ears, maybe because I had heard a lot of people mention those paths to me. So I felt I could go on and become a Medical Doctor or even a Dentist.
However, every time I went with my father to see him off at the airport, I would stare at all those huge aircraft with awe and love in my eyes. I would wonder how they flew up so high even above the clouds and what kept them there. How were the engines and large fans bellowed in a sort of harmonious symphony when they took off! Although I was a child, I revered the whole dynamics of those flying machines; I was simply fascinated by aircraft and their noisy engines.
At one of the annual college fairs in my high school, I stumbled upon a program in one of the brochures the universities came along with, that sounded so distant yet so familiar. To me, Aerospace Engineering became the word that my heart had longed for for so long. Now that I had found the name of what I wanted to end up as I spent no time pestering my parents and everyone else with that idea. At school, I would even present my test papers with the name Astronaut Natasha Moleele, and with time, they had to join me in believing in this dream of mine.
My dad was especially supportive and consistently helped me fuel this passion by getting me NASA souvenirs from Washington every time he was there.
What have been some of the most challenging times you have faced?
Losing my best friend in high school was exceptionally challenging for me. It was my first time losing someone so close and so dear to me. My mental and emotional well-being were affected and my grades dipped for the first time in a long time. I would say that was the major challenge I ever faced. From then on there were minor challenges that I found exciting in a way.
For example, after I had won a scholarship from the government of Botswana and Russia to study Aircraft Propulsion Engineering at the Самарский национальный исследовательский университет имени академика С. П. Королёва. LOL. (In English: Samara National Research University), I had to study the Russian language for academic and social purposes. The students in my class weren’t particularly the chatty type and so I had to find friends outside of my class.
Now, there was this one challenge that was a real bummer in my foundation year. Normally in Russia, there’s a foundation year to introduce you to the program before starting the first year of the degree program. So after the foundation year, all the other students took up courses in Medicine, Mining, and other Tech-related courses. I was the only female taking the Aircraft Engineering program. This situation made it difficult to find a mentor or maybe someone to move along with which, sadly, was chiefly due to the language barrier.
So eventually I had to fall on Stephanie Wilkinson, who is one of the former astronauts, on YouTube to guide and encourage me. It wasn’t long before I discovered surprisingly, that I was the only black female not only in the faculty. It would have been nice to have someone I could speak to from time to time, because my classmates were excruciatingly reserved, fully concentrated on the program. Generally, they were nice, but I still had to find friends outside of my classroom which was helpful to the point where I needed assistance with aircraft engineering stuff.
These challenges were rife in the first year because mostly it felt like I had to study in two languages, English then Russian, so I could fully grasp what I was reading. After the first year, it was not so difficult and by the third year, I had developed so much; both in the language and in the program. This was a major achievement for me; I was so comfortable with the program that I managed to publish a research article.
How have you been able to find your way out of these challenges?
I would say, God and my parents. My mother is an excellent support system whenever I need her. Plus the YouTube videos, I certainly cannot live them out. LoL.
Let’s talk about your achievements along your STEM journey
In Russia, I received a lot of certificates for various accomplishments; some for academics and others for my character and behavior, there was even one for sports. LoL. I was a student activist and one time I was even called on to represent the school in Germany.
How do you spend your time outside work?
Outside of work, I am a model and creative director. I am an extrovert but also, I do not mind being at home. When I go outdoors I like to take part in adventurous activities. For example, in Russia, I would go bungee jumping as a way of relaxing. I like to go swimming and to the gym especially when I’m stressed out. I think at one time I thought it would be nice to be a bodybuilder. Then later, I wanted to drop out of school and become a fitness instructor because I loved being at the gym so much.
However, I decided against it. I felt life is tough, it would just be better to continue and get my degree and not make things difficult for myself. LoL. Oh, I almost forgot, I like to go shooting or hunting and I am very good at it. So basically I am an outdoor person.
What is your favourite quote?
Proverbs 3:5, trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; that is my favourite quote.
What is your word of encouragement for a young girl in STEM?
Be yourself don’t try to be like anybody else. Work diligently and remember always to put your trust in God. Believe that you are perfect and that you are capable of changing lives. Your uniqueness is going to play a pivotal role when you want to impact your community. Above all, just be confident in who you are and love yourself abundantly.
It is an honour to write about you, Natasha! Thank you for sparing time for us.