University of Pretoria scores 4 of country’s top 10 students in GradStar programme

Posted on December 07, 2018

Almost half the students that make up this year’s GradStar programme’s top 10 are from the University of Pretoria. Bernice Mabaya and Roger Wyllie, from the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, and the Law Faculty’s Kirsten Dempsey and Michelle Oelofse all made the cut.

The programme recognises the top 100 university students in South Africa based on their leadership skills, readiness for the workplace and academic performance. As many as 4 000 students were invited to enter the programme, from which 100 were selected over a weekend of workshops and interviews. Finally, “10 of the finest” in the country were chosen and connected with potential employers and business mentors.


Michelle spent the first half of the 2018 academic year at Leiden University in the Netherlands. She also completed an internship at the Hague Conference on Private International Law, an intergovernmental organisation that develops and administers several international conventions, protocols and soft-law instruments. An Allan Gray Orbis Foundation bursary holder, Michelle feels this programme provided her with the foundation to prepare for the GradStar selection process. She was a house committee member of her residence and chaired the UP Debatsvereniging.

Kirsten was a member of the 2017/18 Executive Committee of Law House, the official student body of the Faculty of Law, and was responsible for the sport portfolio. “Being selected as one of the top 10 in the country has taught me a valuable life lesson – never underestimate your abilities,” she says. After the loss of her brother in October 2017, Kirsten established The Ruby Heart Foundation, which assists grieving families. 

Bernice Mabaya is in the final year of her BCom Financial Sciences degree. She was a mentor in UP’s STARS Mentorship Programme, and served as head of transformation for the Association of Black Securities and Investment Professionals (ABSIP) as well as for ABSIP’s Women in Focus, which looks to uplift women of colour and equip them with the knowledge and skills required to bridge the gap between the academic environment and the professional world. Bernice has also volunteered at the children’s ministry at River Church and at the Sophie A Kanza Foundation, a non-profit that supplies young women in South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo with sanitary wear.

Next year, Bernice will be employed by the second top South African employer Accenture, as rated by the Top Employers Institute, an opportunity that was made possible by GradStar. She plans to study towards an honours degree in Financial Management and intends to qualify as a chartered global management accountant, before pursuing her Chartered Financial Analyst qualification.

Roger Wyllie, a final-year BCom Accounting Sciences student, plans to do a postgraduate diploma in Accounting Sciences next year. He’ll be completing his articles at PwC. “The current work climate demands a university degree as a prerequisite and interpersonal/virtue-based skills as a distinguishing factor,” Roger says. “I believe the only way to acquire any form of head start is to start preparing to be an employable individual as soon as possible.”

- Author M Greeff

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