Stellenbosch University
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Irshaad's journey to success
Author: Development & Alumni Relations
Published: 17/04/2024

Irshaad Ahmad Parker's participation in the Stellenbosch University SciMathUS university preparation programme changed his life and taught him this profound life lesson: where you start out does not necessarily dictate where you will end up.

The SciMathUS programme gives high school learners who have already passed Grade 12 but do not qualify for higher education selection, a second opportunity to improve their National Senior Certificate results in mathematics, physical sciences and accounting. This will enable them to re-apply for university programmes.

Irshaad, who hails from the Cape Flats suburb of Grassy Park, explains: “The community I grew up in is not very supportive of youngsters pursuing their studies and one can easily get caught up in the elements the area is plagued with. But by equipping me with qualities such as punctuality and attention to detail, the SciMathUS programme made me realise that I am responsible for my own success. It helped me to unlearn the ingrained but mistaken belief that the circumstances I grew up in would determine where I would end up. This was a hard lesson to learn, but I am glad I did because now I believe I can accomplish anything I set my mind to."

He has no qualms about advising others to consider the SciMathUS programme.

“The programme gives you an opportunity to improve your marks while enjoying the full-on student experience. This offers a great advantage if you decide to study at Stellenbosch. Furthermore, many matriculants rarely ever know what they'd like to pursue as a career nor what their interests are. SciMathUS offers you the opportunity to find your niche, and what you'd like to pursue academically."

Irshaad says SciMathUS helped him to find his academic niche and the discipline to be successful in it.

“The programme helped me to realise that I have a passion for Biology, and after improving my math and physics marks, I enrolled for a BSc in Human Life Sciences at SU in 2017. This option was a great way to enter the sciences and helped to quench my thirst for understanding biological phenomena. Thereafter I pursued an honours degree in Biochemistry. This was a sensible option as Biochemistry offers a great variety of fields to explore."

During that time, he also distinguished himself in other areas, thereby exemplifying the programme's philosophy of delivering well-rounded, capable students and individuals.

“During my undergraduate years, from 2017 to 2020, I stayed in Helderberg Men's Residence. There I was a mentor for two years, chairperson of a critical discussion forum and served on the first year committee. In addition, I served on the Natural Sciences Committee as a social representative in 2020. I was class representative for numerous Biochemistry modules (214, 315, 345). At the end of my undergraduate studies, I completed my degree with a 73% average, securing me a scholarship for my honours year. During my honours year I lived at Huis De Villiers and received an award for being a section representative. I successfully completed my honours year, graduating cum laude. All of this was completed while working part-time for an international company (, launching a business (Local Cape Roots), developing another (Sprout Smart) and working on a contract basis as a project manager at family business Churchill."

In December 2023, Irshaad obtained his master's degree in biomedical engineering cum laude, also at SU.

“Upon the completion of my BSc Hons, I had set my sights on pursuing an MEngSc in Biomedical Engineering. This choice followed deep contemplation of future career prospects and personal development.

“When you think about a master's degree, one immediately thinks about research articles and experiments. While that is a great deal of mastering, the actual mastering is that of oneself. Principles such as discipline, time management and accountability, are really what the master's is about, for me at least."

He has signed a contract with the Panthera Conservation Organisation, where he will be taking point as their Conservation Support Coordinator. Using the skills from his research project, he will join the Panthera team in the fight against the loss of big cat biodiversity. “Our team will be implementing cutting edge machine learning techniques to track, monitor and protect big cat species in our wild parks," he says.

“When I think back to my SciMathUs days, I cannot believe the person I was. The transformation over these years has been incredible. I am so thankful and grateful for the opportunities and effort many of the SciMathUS staff put into me (you know who you are). I hope my success has brought you joy, and you can rest easy knowing that all that patience really fuelled my academic career."

He hopes, in his way, to be an example to the youngsters back home who are still stuck in the cycle of entrapment that he was so fortunate to escape.​