UP alumni awarded Fulbright scholarships

Posted on July 08, 2021

Three alumni from the University of Pretoria (UP) have been awarded Fulbright scholarships to further their studies in the United States.

The South African Fulbright Foreign Student Program provides South African university graduates with grants to pursue postgraduate studies at a US university. Students are selected through a rigorous application and interview process. The scholarship covers a master’s or doctoral degree and provides two years of funding towards one degree. For doctoral degrees, at least two to three years of study are required beyond the initial two years.

Oonagh Pretorius, who graduated from UP with an MSc in Tropical Animal Health (2019) with a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 73.7%, will pursue a PhD in Epidemiology through the Graduate Group in Epidemiology at the University of California, Davis, from September 2021 to 2024. “I feel incredibly privileged to have been selected for such a renowned scholarship programme,” she said. “This bursary means that I can fulfil my dream of becoming a world-class epidemiologist and bring knowledge and skills back to South Africa.”

Pretorius says she is looking forward to gaining experience at the university’s Center for Animal Disease Modeling and Surveillance, which is recognised by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation as a Reference Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology. “The centre’s overarching goal is to develop systems that can be used to prevent, control or eradicate diseases and their associated adverse economic impacts; this ties in directly with my research interests,” Pretorius said.

Adriaan de Clercq, who holds a BSc (Hons) in Mathematics (2020) with a cumulative GPA of 97.11%, will be pursuing a master’s degree in Mathematics at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, from next year until August 2023. “Beyond travelling and experiencing new people and a new culture, the graduate academic environment in the US is also significantly more expansive,” De Clercq said. “There are more students, more funding and more coursework. It seems the academic work in the hard sciences is tending more towards the collaborative. I am certain the denser interactive network will prove invaluable in my future career.”

Melissa Buys graduated with a BEng in Mechanical Engineering in 2020, with a cumulative GPA of 75.86%, and is currently pursuing a BEng (Hons) in the subject. The Fulbright grant will fund her master’s degree at the University of Maryland (UMD). While the grant will only cover funding for her degree, UMD has offered her further funds to complete her PhD. This means she will be studying in the US for five years, from 2021 until 2026.

“I will be researching the static electricity that forms between dust particles in space, and how this static electricity affects spacecrafts,” said Buys. “I will be part of the Planetary Surfaces and Spacecraft Lab in the Aeronautical Engineering Department. From a very young age, I have been interested in outer space and space exploration – the idea of venturing into the greatest unknown always seemed like a worthwhile challenge to undertake. My passion for engineering and space exploration combines perfectly in the field of astronautical engineering. I am excited to learn from leaders in the field of astronautical research so that I can one day lead it myself and share my skills with researchers and scientists in South Africa.”  

“The University is very proud of the recipients of this scholarship,” said Professor Carolina Koornhof, Acting Vice-Principal: Research and Postgraduate Studies. “We wish them well in their studies abroad.

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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