"I was both excited and, at the same time, a little intimidated by the responsibility of supervising such a capable and accomplished student," says Dr Brian van Vuuren of Jacqueline Kazmaier, who won Stellenbosch University's prestigious Chancellor's Medal for 2017. Dr Van Vuuren, lecturer in the Department of Industrial Engineering, was Ms Kazmaier's project leader for her final-year "skripsie".
The Chancellor's Medal is the highest honour bestowed on a student by Stellenbosch University and is awarded annually to a final-year or postgraduate student who has excelled both academically and in all facets of campus life. Ms Kazmaier passed all the modules for her BEng degree in Industrial Engineering with distinction. Her average over four years was 89,7%.
For her final-year project, Ms Kazmaier chose a topic proposed by Dr Van Vuuren and PhD student Jancke Eygelaar. The title was A machine learning data analysis decision-support system.
Dr Van Vuuren continues: "Machine learning is a very complex field to make sense of and certainly well outside the scope of the four-year curriculum. Jancke and I therefore knew it would need to be a strong and ambitious student who could drive the project. I didn't know Jacqui very well, but I knew she was a top-tier student and, as such, expected her to choose a seasoned academic and experienced researcher as her project leader. As I am a young lecturer and not very experienced academically, I was surprised (yet naturally thrilled) that Jacqui chose me as her project leader.
"As expected, Jacqui was self-motivated and independent. Jancke and my role as study leaders was therefore more as 'collaborators' than 'supervisors'. She took the project 'by the horns' and ran with it. We didn't even know what the outcome would be - she forged her own path and developed the project according to her vision. All programming, development and implementation was done completely independently and far exceeded our hopes for the project. Then again, with her pristine academic record and positive work attitude, I could see from an early stage that she was going to excel beyond what we had in mind. She received 89% for her final-year project.
"Despite her exceptional academic abilities and independence as a student, Jacqui is incredibly humble and soft spoken. She was always seeking advice and took everything Jancke and I said to heart, although she was more than capable in her own right. She really was a pleasure to work with!"
Ms Kazmaier serves as an excellent example to dispel two myths that say engineers are nerds and that Engineering is for men only. Regarding the former myth: apart from being a brilliant student, she is a well-rounded person. She is a talented photographer and graphic designer. She sings, dances and plays both the violin and the piano. Furthermore, she is a member of the Maties Surfing Society and the Maties Volleyball Society.
Regarding the myth that Engineering is for men only, Ms Kazmaier is the fourth female Engineering student to win the Chancellor's Medal since 2003, the others being Marlize Schoeman (2003), Celeste Barnardo (2006), Lidia Auret (2010). This means that, since 2001, there have been four women Engineering students to win the coveted award compared to three men.
Read more about this exceptional student here