18 April 2024 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Stephen Collett and Leonie Bolleurs
Left: Wikus Vorster is the Dean’s Medal winner in the final-year third-year curriculum. He completed his BSc Actuarial Science degree. Pictured with him is the Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, Prof Paul Oberholster. Right: Mienke Botha completed the BScAgric Animal Science programme. She received the Dean’s Medal for the best grades in the final-year fourth-year curriculum.

A total of 1 582 students graduated in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the April graduation ceremonies of the University of the Free State (UFS). The faculty honoured four students for achieving the best results in respectively the third-year curriculum, the fourth-year curriculum, final-year honours, and final-year master’s.

Dr Snowy Khoza, a seasoned non-executive, senior adviser, acknowledged strategist, and development activist in the infrastructure development space, addressed the graduates in the first two sessions of the day.

She urged graduates to remember that graduation is not just an end, but a new beginning – a launching pad for future endeavours and aspirations. “Whether you choose to pursue further studies, embark on a career in research, industry, or entrepreneurship, or devote yourself to making a difference in your community, know that the world is ripe with possibilities waiting to be explored.”

Dr Khoza sponsored R50 000 to each Dean’s Medal recipient from the first two graduation ceremonies of the day.

Actuarial Science right up my alley

Wikus Vorster, who completed his BSc Actuarial Science degree, received the Dean’s Medal in the final-year third-year curriculum in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences. He was also awarded the Senate Medal for achieving the highest weighted average across all undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in all faculties of the UFS. Vorster, who has always had a love for numbers and programming, says it is truly an honour to see his hard work recognised in this way.

“Actuarial Science always seemed to be right up my alley since it combines all my favourite academic interests,” he says. According to him, every module had something to offer.

His strategy for academic success was to put in an enormous amount of hard work and sacrifice. The support from family and friends also helped him to perform at his best.

Vorster aspires to become the best-qualified actuary he can by continuing to develop his understanding of risk, programming, and statistics.

Give your best at all times

Mienke Botha, who grew up on a farm in an agriculturally driven community, surrounded by truly passionate farmers, completed the BScAgric Animal Science programme. She received the Dean’s Medal for the best grades in the final-year fourth-year curriculum. About receiving this honour, Botha says, “I never really worked that hard just for the recognition; on the contrary, I truly enjoyed it.”

She continues, “I find my Animal Nutrition, Animal Physiology, and Animal Breeding subjects rewarding in my third and fourth year. I love how they all integrate into each other and how they can be applied together in the practical industry. It also helps to fully understand the science and to base farming decisions on this.”

Her approach to success is to give her best at all times. She believes that discipline is one aspect of life that will carry over to all others. Moreover, she states, “I always strived to use the abilities and talents I have received from the Lord to the fullest.”

Having experienced the satisfaction and happiness that work in this field can bring, Botha comments that she would like to quality as a ruminant nutritionist, focusing on the dietary needs and feeding management of animals, such as cattle, sheep, and goats.

The little we know about the small things in life

Rinus Behrens completed his BSc Honours in Food Science and was awarded the Dean’s Medal for achieving the best results in the final-year honours class. He says that with the talents that God gave him, he aimed from the beginning to do only his best.

He believes that if one truly has an interest in the work you are doing, you should be excited to talk about it. “You will not only gain more knowledge; studying will also become easier.” During his studies, the subjects of Food Microbiology and Meat Science specifically stood out for Behrens. “My research on crocodile meat – regarding the microbial and physio-chemical aspects thereof – required me to use the knowledge obtained from those subjects as a whole to fully understand what may have led to the results I obtained. Both of these subjects opened my eyes in terms of how little we really know about the small things in life. Something as small as the smallest bacteria can have such a major influence on our lives. As scary as it seems, it excites me!”

Behrens is of the opinion that Food Science influences everyone, even if you don’t know it. “We all eat food, and getting behind the science of it all is what truly excites me. This is where I feel I can have the greatest impact on many people's lives while enjoying every moment of what I am doing.”

Future steps for him after completing his PhD are to pursue a career in research microbiology, food auditing, or further research based on the microbiology of crocodile meat.

Theory of Architecture – changing the way I see and think about architecture

The Dean’s Medal for the final-year master’s class went to an Architecture student, Arran Wood. It is the role his lecturers played in his success that stood out to him. “I am grateful for the amazing support and encouragement I’ve received over the years from my lecturers, who spent so much of their own effort into teaching me what I know about architecture,” he comments.

Both of his parents are in the building industry; his father worked in construction and design and his mother as a civil engineer. “Even though it was always my decision, growing up I gained a passion to work in these fields and that is why I chose architecture,” he says.

During his studies, it was especially Theory of Architecture that fascinated him. “It changed the way I see and think about architecture and even about life,” he remarks.

Just like the other medal winners, Wood also believes that hard work played a key role in his success. Hard work, late nights, and never giving up was his strategy when studying. 

For the future, he hopes to make a difference and bring meaning to the work he does. “I care deeply about South Africa and the people in it,” he concludes. 

NAS Medalists 2024

Left to right: Rinus Behrens completed his BSc Honours in Food Science and was awarded the Dean’s Medal for achieving the best results in the final-year honours class, while an Architecture student, Arran Wood, received the Dean’s Medal for the final-year master’s class.

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