Six University of Pretoria (UP) first-year students recently went on a weeklong tour arranged by the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) as part of its Brilliants Programme for first-year students who excelled in grade 12 in 2018.
The South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) and South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) hosted an astronomy tour across four provinces for 19 top matriculants. They visited the Boyden Observatory and Naval Hill Planetarium outside Bloemfontein, the Iziko Planetarium in Cape Town, the South African Large Telescope (SALT) outside Sutherland and the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) outside Johannesburg.
The tour exposed students to new fields of study and careers in science, engineering and technology (SET), bursaries, opportunities and inspiration through role models in SET and innovation in South Africa.
Nadya Meherjina, who is studying at UP, received eight distinctions in matric and was the top candidate in her district with 100% for physical science.
“I have seen first-hand the capabilities of students in KwaZulu-Natal, being a top achiever in my two favourite subjects definitely feels surreal,” said Nadya Meherjina, who is in her first year of Mechanical Engineering at UP after excelling in physical science and mathematics in grade 12.
“It has reaffirmed my choice of career in engineering. It definitely is a huge honour for me to be acknowledged by NSTF. I was filled with pride while seeing the advancements of South Africa in science through this insightful tour and it has shown me the possibilities that are available in this country,” said Meherjina.
UP first-year mechanical engineering student Thekiso Mokoena was also awed by the experience.
UP student Thekiso Mokoena got 100% in physical science and 99% in mathematics in matric last year. He passed with five distinctions.
“I am grateful to have been recognised by NSTF, and during this tour I have learnt about the extent to which South Africa is involved in astronomy around the world. And seeing so many telescopes was amazing,” he said.
Six of 19 of the Brilliants Programme awardees opted to study at UP:
- Thekiso Mokoena from the Free State’s Morena Mokopela Secondary School: Chemical Engineering;
- Olebogeng Mncwabe from Gauteng’s Princess High School: Biological Science;
- Tiisetso Molata from Gauteng’s PJ Simelane Secondary School: Electrical Engineering;
- Nadya Meherjina from KwaZulu-Natal’s Westville Girls' High School: Mechanical Engineering;
- Carla Venter from Mpumalanga’s Hoërskool Nelspruit: Medicine; and
- Hamman Prinsloo from North West’s Hoërskool Rustenburg: Medicine.
Molata and Prinsloo have each received the UP Vice-Chancellor Discretionary Merit Award bursary in their respective fields of study.
Each year for the past three years, NSTF, SAAO and SARAO have collaborated to reward outstanding performances in grade 12 physical science and mathematics at what has come to be popularly known as the “Science Oscars of South Africa”.
The Brilliants Programme recognises the top female and male learners in each of the nine provinces based on their marks in physical science and mathematics in the National Senior Certificate Examinations (grade 12), and their choice to study SET-related courses. The Western Cape had three awardees in 2018.