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SU honours top matric achievers at inaugural Vice-Chancellor’s Awards
Author: Corporate Communications and Marketing
Published: 29/02/2024

​There was a buzz of brilliance in the historical Old Main Building at Stellenbosch University (SU) recently as a group of exceptional undergraduate academic achievers were the guests of honour at the University's inaugural Vice-Chancellor's (VC) Awards for top matriculants.

SU's Vice-Chancellor and Rector Prof Wim de Villiers hosted the VC Awards ceremony, also attended by the Rectorate and Deans as well as senior managers, to recognise and reward undergraduate students for their outstanding academic achievements in high school.

SU introduced a new Academic Excellence Awards model for undergraduate newcomers in their first year of study last year, but there wasn't a formal ceremony in 2023. The event on 21 February this year celebrated the academic achievements of two outstanding groups of students representing both the 2023 and 2024 cohorts of the VC Awards. It also acknowledged the sterling results of the 2023 cohort for their first year of study.

De Villiers congratulated the students on their exceptional matric results. “Your hard work and dedication have not gone unnoticed, and we are thrilled that you have chosen Stellenbosch University as your academic home. I also want to commend the recipients from last year for their continued success in their first year at university. Keep up the excellent work," he said.

De Villiers highlighted the recent achievements of the University, including its ranking among South Africa's top three research-intensive universities, with continued growth in research output and international collaboration. The University has 508 NRF-rated researchers, De Villiers noted, including 21 A-rated researchers, and has established 48 fully funded research chairs and 22 partially funded chairs.

The establishment of the VC Award serves a dual purpose, De Villiers explained. Firstly, it is designed to provide top achievers with an added impetus to soar even higher in their academic pursuits. Secondly, it is a recognition of the recipients' exceptional standing within the top 5% of first-year students at SU.

“Not only are you representing most of the provinces in our country (7 out of 9), but some of you matriculated as South African citizens in Namibia, Canada, Zimbabwe, the United Emirates and Saudi Arabia," De Villiers said.

“You've also enrolled in study fields of critical importance not only for South Africa, but for the betterment of the global society – in mechatronics, medicine, chemical, electrical, industrial, and mechanical engineering, law, laser physics, data science, actuarial sciences and accounting, biodiversity and ecology, as well as human resource management.

“The academic track record of last year's cohort of VC Award recipients, proved evidence of the continuation of excellence, with 99.9% of the recipients passing their first year of study with distinction. Well done!"

Cream of the crop

As the VC Award ceremony concluded, the sense of achievement and anticipation for future endeavours lingered, setting the stage for continued scholarly pursuit and success. We asked some of the VC Award recipients to share their thoughts on being recognised as top achievers at SU.

  • Zuhra Samsodien came to SU to study human resource management on the recommendation of her aunt. “She introduced me to the campus and showed me how nice it is. Coming to Stellenbosch has been a wonderful experience so far," Samsodien said. She's grateful for the VC Award because it will ease the financial burden on her parents. “To get financial support for being an excellent student helps me a lot. I'm very grateful for the opportunity and I feel really appreciative," she added.
  • Hailing from Rustenburg, Lars Penzhorn's decided to come to Stellenbosch to study BCom (actuarial science) because he wanted to meet new people and see the world from a different perspective. “Of course, also because of the stunning environment – the mountains, the sea. It's simply fantastic to be able to study here. My first year at SU has been stunning and I've met very interesting and nice people who've helped me with my studies. There's always a fun atmosphere in Stellenbosch," Penzhorn said. Being recognised as an academic achiever came as a huge surprise, he added. “I feel honoured to be here tonight. This award motivates you to keep working hard and to always give everything."
  • Heidi Rossouw, a first-year medical student at SU's Tygerberg campus, is one of a unique group of super achievers – the only girl in a set of triplets from Bloubergstrand who achieved a combined 21 distinctions when they matriculated from Parklands College last year. Heidi attributes her success to the “mostly friendly" competition between her and her brothers. Although her siblings were not at the event, she gave a shout out to André and Norman, as she described her joy at receiving the Vice Chancellor's Award. The biggest adjustment to university life has been to call her lecturers “doctor" and “professor", Rossouw said with a grin. André has registered for a BAcc LLB degree at SU and Norman is studying data engineering, also at SU.
  • All the way from Johannesburg, Tahseen Hansrod decided to study mechanical engineering at SU for a simple reason: “I believe Stellenbosch is the best university, not only in South Africa but in Africa," he said with a confident smile. “2023 was a roller coaster of a first year, but it's been one of the most enjoyable years of my life so far. Luckily, I've been able to maintain my academic marks compared to matric quite well. The secret behind academic success is not just hard work, but finding a balance between work and leisure time, as well as having faith in God."
  • When she heard she was the country's top public school matriculant in January, Melissa Muller from Stellenbosch was bowled over. The Rhenish Girls' High allrounder, who's studying mechatronic engineering at SU, said her first two weeks as a Matie have been super fun. “Everyone is so friendly, and I'm enjoying getting back into a routine after a long break since the matric exams. I'm excited for the year ahead. I think I'm going to make many friends in class and build so many networking connections here in Stellenbosch, because SU provides you with many opportunities."
  • Being one of the VC Award recipients makes him feel special, said Aiden Andrew Campbell from KwaZulu-Natal. “This award means a lot to me because it shows that my academic achievements are recognised. Not every university recognises academic prowess in this way. I'm grateful for all SU has done for me. And most importantly, I'm grateful to God for this opportunity." Campbell said his first impressions of being a medical student have been overwhelmingly positive. “The Tygerberg campus is beautiful and the people are so welcoming, it already feels like home."​​

PHOTO: One of the recipients of the Vice-Chancellor's Awards, Tahseen Hansrod, with Prof Wim de Villiers. (Photo taken by Stefan Els.)