Dr Xanthe Dawn Hunt (27) from Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal, who received the coveted Chancellor's Medal at SU's seventh graduation ceremony on Thursday (13 December), is described by academic staff at Stellenbosch University (SU) as “an academic phenomenon" and the “very finest student we have had in many years." This description corresponds with the admiration from world leaders in the field of disability studies at a recent international disability conference in Europe, who described her as a “genius."
"I think it is very kind and generous. I have not seen myself as that way. I have seen myself as very hardworking and I always studies extremely hard," said Hunt shortly after the ceremony.
Hunt is the recipient of the coveted Chancellor's Medal that is awarded annually to a final year or postgraduate student who has not only excelled academically, but also contributed to campus life in various ways and worked hard at developing co-curricular attributes. At the same ceremony Hunt also received a PhD in Psychology.
She said the secret to her success is the fortunate position that she was in to have a lot of mentors, particularly towards the psychology side of my academic career. "PhD's are always kind of the moment where you contribute something and first time in your career where you make something original, and it is build on the back of years and years of mentors, teachers and classes," she said.
With very little difficulty, Hunt already has some 30 academic publications to her name. This is more than many academics in Psychology have contributed in their entire careers, says Prof Awie Greeff, Chair of the Department of Psychology.
She is also the first Masters' student in the history of the Department whose degree was upgraded to a PhD.
Another academic highlight was that during her PhD studies, she enrolled for a course in Biostatistics at Masters' level, despite not having completed Mathematics at matric level. Initially, the course convenor did not wish to admit her to the course for this reason, but later reluctantly agreed to accept her. She completed the course cum laude and her results were the second best in the class.
"I didn't take maths at high school because it seemed not worth the push at that time. Stats are very visual. You use graphs and there is always a visual way of conceiving the statistic or theory behind it. And that kind of pulled me through if I can see what I was learning and if I could think of it in visual terms," she explained how she manages to pull her math through although she never had it before."
Since starting her studies at SU in 2010, Hunt won amongst others the SU Political Science Award for Excellence for Top Achieving First Year Student; the Department of English's Award for Excellence for Top Achieving First Year Student and the Rector's Award for Academic Excellence Top Faculty Achiever (on three occasions). She was also offered the prestigious Babette Taute English Scholarship.
Amazingly, Hunt passed cum laude in every single subject she took, with the exception of a single service module. During the first five years of her studies, she achieved an average of 82.08%.
Her research spans disability studies, public health, monitoring and evaluation of early childhood interventions, and academic communication. She holds a Bachelor's degree in the Humanities, Honours degrees in Journalism and in Psychology, a Master's Degree in Biostatistics, and now a PhD in Psychology.
Hunt has worked with many members of the Department of Psychology over the course of her Honours, Master's and PhD degrees, primarily in the role of project assistant, but gradually formalising her role in the employ of one of the research units.
In her undergraduate years, Xanthe was part of her residence's a cappella choir and worked as a peer tutor both within her residence community and later beyond. She has also worked as a volunteer counsellor in community-based projects in the Stellenbosch and Franschhoek areas.
In addition to all her academic qualities, Hunt is exceptionally hard-working and a great team player. Fellow students find her supportive, and she is very popular amongst the staff in her department. She also regularly gives talks and lectures, and is an excellent communicator.
She has a contract for her PhD to be published as a book with Palgrave next year (2019). She will present an exhibition from the PhD work at the Cape Town Holocaust Centre early in 2019.
- Main photo: Dr Xanthe Hunt stands with the Rector, prof Wim de Villiers, who was in 1986 the first medical student at SU who received the Chancellor's Medal.
- Photo 1: Dr Xanthe Hunt receives the Chancellor's Medal
- Photographer: Stefan Els