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'Extraordinary academic' receives Schumann medal
Author: Daniel Bugan
Published: 28/05/2020

The recipient of the CGW Schumann medal for the best postgraduate student in 2019 at SU's Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, Mr Willem Wilken, is already fronting up to a new challenge as he furthers his studies in the foreign climes of Oxford University.

The medal, named after Prof CGW Schumann, a pioneer lecturer in the Faculty from 1924 and also dean for a quarter of a century, has been awarded annually since 1986. The award is the highest student accolade in the Faculty. 

Wilken, who received his BSc (Mathematical Sciences and Mathematical Statistics), BComHons (Economics and Mathematical Statistics) and MCom (Economics) degrees cum laude, was recently announced the winner of the prestigious medal. An official handover ceremony is scheduled for later this year.

Other remarkable facts regarding Wilken's academic record include the following:

  • He received distinctions in 53 out of a total of 55 modules;
  • During his undergraduate studies, he received 56 additional credits (1st and 2nd year Philosophy);
  • The honours programme he followed is an enriched programme, requiring 164 credits in comparison to the usual 120 credits. On average, only one student per year enrols for this very challenging programme; and
  • He achieved his level of academic excellence in three faculties: Science (undergraduate), Economic and Management Sciences (postgraduate), as well as Arts and Social Sciences (undergraduate Philosophy).

Over the years, Wilken accrued numerous awards and accolades. This include the Cloete medal for the best undergraduate student (over all three academic years) in Economics in 2016, best honours student in Economics in 2017 (competing against students who offered only 120 credits) and the Cloete medal for the best postgraduate student in Economics in 2019.

According to Prof Andrie Schoombee, chair of the Department of Economics, Wilken also received recognition for his academic achievements outside the economics department.

“He was awarded a Mandela Rhodes Scholarship in 2017, elected an Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Fellow, and is currently studying towards an MPhil (Economics) at the University of Oxford with a Rhodes Scholarship," said Schoombee.

Dean of the Faculty Prof Ingrid Woolard described Wilken as a worthy winner: “Not only is he an extraordinary academic, but he has also managed to continue to participate in extracurricular and social impact initiatives. He is a great inspiration to us and to his fellow students."

Wilken said he is humbled and grateful for the recognition. “I'm especially thrilled that I'm following in the footsteps of my 2013 matric classmates from Paul Roos Gymnasium who also received the Schumann medal − Gerben Draaijer in 2018 and Niel Botha in 2019. I suppose that's a hat-trick for Paul Roos!" exclaimed Wilken.

He said the support and encouragement he received from the economics department played a vital role in him achieving the heights he has.

“I was fortunate to encounter some incredible academics. The lecturers there were always willing to spend lots of time with you in discussing your essays or research ideas. I'm especially thankful to Prof Rulof Burger for being so generous with his time in supervising my master's degree and Prof Servaas van der Berg, who inspired a generation of economists."

Wilken prides himself on being a well-balanced individual and enjoys running and debating. He has taken part in some 14 debating tournaments in South Africa, Botswana and the Netherlands.

He has also put his debating skills to use in the broader community and has coached debating at Rhenish High School in Stellenbosch and Makapula Secondary School in Kayamandi.

“I started coaching because I wanted to provide learners with the kind of opportunities that I received in school. Stellenbosch University students ran the local schools debating league, as they still do today, and I learnt a lot from them," said Wilken.

The Durbanville resident's family also has strong ties with Stellenbosch. His mother, Mariatha, and father, Hendrik, both completed their studies at the university, while his sister Elizabeth is currently studying her Actuarial Science honours degree there. His other sister Cate is a social work student at Huguenot College in Wellington.

Currently halfway through his two-year MPhil degree, the 24-year-old hopes to pursue an academic career in the future.

 “I enjoy lecturing and doing research. I can't imagine anything better than doing what you love and getting paid for it!"

  • Photos supplied: Mr Willem Wilken, recipient of the CGW Schumann medal for the best postgraduate student in 2019 at SU's Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences. The other photo was taken at his matriculation (i.e. the formal process of entering the university) in October 2019 in the main quad of Oxford University College.