Recipients of this year’s Talent Equity and Excellence Scholarships come from diverse academic backgrounds - from Agriculture to Astronomy - but have set themselves apart as high achievers and driven young leaders. They are: Ms Ntombifuthi Nzimande, Ms Sibusiswangaye Mdluli, Mr Mthokozisi Mdalose, Ms Wendy Geza and Mr Manqoba Zungu.
Ms Wendy Geza, originally from Bizana in the Eastern Cape, is in Agricultural Extension and Rural Resource Management (AERRM), where she is doing her honours degree and hopes to continue to do a PhD. She ultimately wants to become an academic.
‘I’m excited and scared at the same time about this scholarship, because it requires one to step up, but it’s a great opportunity,’ said Geza.
She has also enlisted mentorship from academics in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) to help her advance her career.
Schooled in Port Shepstone, Geza is the first member of her family to continue to honours studies, and she says she is excited to prove to her younger brothers and sisters that she can go all the way in her chosen career in agriculture.
Her honours research involves assessing the contribution of young women to household food security. This was inspired by seeing young girls around her drop out of school but still somehow contribute to their households.
Geza says she is continually discovering new things, and was attracted to a career in agriculture after studying it briefly in high school. Studying in the Discipline of AERRM allowed Geza the experience of going into the community, which she says teaches one as much about oneself as it does about communities.
She has won praise from her supervisors and lecturers throughout her career and was the recipient of the Kwanalu Floating Trophy for the Top Bachelor of Agriculture (AERRM) Undergraduate Student for 2015. She is now undertaking a three-month internship with the Farmer Support Group at UKZN which gives her the opportunity to interact with farmers in rural communities.
Ms Sibysuswangaye Mdluli, involved in Plant Breeding in SAEES, is originally from KwaMsane in Mtubatuba where she completed her schooling career. Mdluli is undertaking her Master’s on the topic of genetic characterisation of wheat for drought tolerance.
She says her affection for the Discipline of Plant Breeding stems from her belief that the ability to create new cultivars is enormously beneficial to society. She hopes to continue to do PhD research with the aim of creating a drought-tolerant cultivar, and plans to carve out a career in academia as a lecturer and researcher, passing on the knowledge she has gained to the next generation of plant breeders. All of this will be made more achievable through the scholarship.
‘I am very grateful and humbled by this opportunity,’ said Mdluli. ‘This scholarship will help me to achieve my goals, inspire others to work towards their dreams and assist me in contributing positively to society.’
Mr Mthokozisi Mdalose, a master’s candidate in the Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit (ACRU), says the scholarship will help him achieve his dreams of becoming a lecturer and researcher.
Mdlalose of Pietermaritzburg matriculated at Sukuma Comprehensive School where he excelled in Mathematics and Physical Science. He describes his background as a previously disadvantaged one, saying the scholarship will enable him to follow his academic ambitions and relieve financial burdens.
Fascinated by the unknowns of the universe, its governing principles and how stars and galaxies were created, he was awarded an SKA bursary in 2012 through ACRU, and this, he says, exposed him to the future of astronomy in South Africa. ACRU has afforded him opportunities for mentorship from academics such as Professor Kavilan Moodley, Dr Caroline Zunckel and Professor Jonathan Sievers.
Mdlalose says he enjoys astronomy because it interfaces with so many other fields including engineering and computer science and its skills are in demand from the private sector and government institutions. It has also afforded him the chance to explore the mysteries of the universe as well as travel to different places.
Mdlalose recently attended a Summer School Programme at the University of Toronto in Canada, working with Professor Keith Vanderlinde on redundant calibration pipeline, which was facilitated by his supervisor, Professor Jonathan Sievers.
Mdlalose is undertaking his masters research on the topic of a quasi-redundant calibration pipeline for the upcoming 21 cm telescopes such as the HIRAX radio telescope, the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA), CHIME, and SKA radio telescope.
He hopes to continue to do his PhD on the 21 cm calibration analysis and do work on pulsars and dark energy.
Thereafter, he plans to pursue post-doctoral research, and perhaps a second degree in African studies, specifically the science of Southern African people during the pre-colonial and colonial eras.
PhD candidate in the School of Life Science, Mr Manqoba Moses Zungu of Wartburg, is involved in investigating the impact of habitat fragmentation on forest-dependent mammal occupancy in the eThekwini Municipal region - an area that has received relatively little research attention in its urban areas.
‘Ever since I was young, I have been fascinated by the natural world, which is understandable considering my rural upbringing,’ said Zungu. ‘That childish fascination with nature has not left me but deepened over the years. This interest has led me to my love for biology, ecology and the environment.
‘What drives me the most in doing this type of work is a moral obligation we have as conservation biologists,’ said Zungu, who is passionate about contributing towards the betterment of the planet for current and especially future generations.
Zungu completed his Bachelor of Science Honours in Ecological Sciences and Master of Science in Ecology at UKZN, receiving considerable recognition for his academic prowess, including certificates of merit for 13 modules as well as three Dean’s Commendations and the Bayer Prize for the Best Third-Year Student in Plant Ecology, the Grassland Society of Southern Africa Medal for the Student with the Best Average Mark at Third-Year level, the Kathleen Gordon-Gray Prize for the Best Third-Year Student in Plant Systematics, and the Olaf Wirminghaus Prize for the Best Third-Year Student in Behavioural Ecology. He is also a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society.
‘I feel very privileged to have obtained this scholarship which will allow me to pursue my dreams of becoming a conservation biologist, with a PhD as an important entry point into solving environmental problems and preserving the natural world for future generations.’
Zungu says he has been able to wake up each morning knowing he is doing what he loves, and that he is making a difference in preserving South Africa’s natural heritage. He plans to go on to a post-doctoral fellowship to improve his skills and gain experience, and thereafter take up a career in academia.
Ms Ntombifuthi Precious Nzimande is studying for her Honours degree in Geography and Environmental Management on the Pietermaritzburg Campus.