Prof Claire Penn who was awarded the Order of Mapungubwe - Silver by Pres Thabo Mbeki at the end of last year is an internationally acknowledged scientist and academic who has proved that women can reach the pinnacle of academic excellence and match their male colleagues in conducting high-level scientific research.
She received the Order of Mapungubwe for her contribution to the field of speech and language pathology, especially in the areas of linguistics, sign language, child language, and aphasia as well as for her groundbreaking research in understanding the complexities of human communication.
Prof Penn chose this career because of her fascination with the power of words. She sees communication at the heart of the human endeavour, a capacity which is complex, vulnerable and both a science and an art. It can forge and sustain relationships but can equally represent the main reason for breakdown in understanding between individuals and communities.
She has been involved in undergraduate and postgraduate teaching in the field of speech-language pathology for over 30 years in South Africa and the United States. It is a largely a female profession and she has done much to empower women to become independent thinkers and inspired many students to become internationally recognised leaders in the field.
Over the years Prof Penn has served on advisory committees for stroke rehabilitation in SA, policy and procedure for the victims of road traffic accidents, and formulation of language policy for education and sign language in the new SA constitution. She is the founder member of the Stroke Aid Society and has also taught courses for community based rehabilitation workers and community speech and hearing workers in the Alexandra Health Clinic and Tinswalo Hospital.
The five-volume Dictionary of Southern African Signs for Communicating with the Deaf is the product of a major research project on sign language under the auspices of the Human Sciences Research Council which Prof Penn directed.
She is currently coordinator of a multi-disciplinary research group, the Health Communication Project based at the University of the Witwatersrand, concerned with the unique challenges of communication in health care in the country.
It seeks to improve health communication practices cross-culturally through investigating current practice and developing and implementing communication skills training packages for health professionals at various sites throughout Africa.
Communication has been identified as the single biggest barrier to health care and in a society as diverse as South Africa the provision of culturally and linguistically appropriate services is a top priority, particularly in light of the illness burden imposed by HIV/AIDS.
The research aims to inform policy and provide practical guidelines for training within the health professions, which will be in line with current health care reform in South Africa and the constitutional rights of its citizens. Lessons and solutions from South Africa can inspire and inform global practice and women’s role in society can achieve this.
Prof Penn, a National Research Foundation A-rated scsientist, has been associated with the University of the Witwatersand for more than 35 years. Currently she holds an endowed chair at the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology at the university. She has served as the editor of the South African Journal of Communication Disorders and is on the editorial boards of several international journals.
Prof Penn has been a guest speaker at a number of national and international venues and is the recipient of several research grants. She has produced three books and almost a hundred publications and has hosted three international conferences.
Three finalists have been announced in each of the five categories of the 2012 Shoprite Checkers Women of the Year Award.
The names of the judges who will select this year's Shoprite Checkers Women of the Year, have been announced.
As the 2012 Shoprite Checkers Women of the Year Award enters its judging phase, the winners of 2011 tell of how they are utilizing the prize money received from the Shoprite Group of Companies, to enhance their work and build a better future for the people of South Africa.
Women of the Year Office
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