When Felecia Wells was only five years old, she used to love flipping through her dad's massive biology book and being sucked into a different world. Even though she could not fully read yet, flipping through her father's book sparked an interest that led her to pursue a career in science.
Wells graduated with a Master's in Biochemistry on Thursday, 1 April 2021 during an online graduation ceremony for Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Science.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, SU hosted a hybrid graduation week, which included nine small physical (face-to-face) ceremonies for doctoral graduands, honorary doctorates and the Chancellor's Awards recipients at the SU Conservatoire of Music (Konservatorium), as well as virtual faculty-specific graduation ceremonies.
Wells is a former Science and Mathematics at Stellenbosch University (SciMathUS) programme student and says that the SU programme did not only give her a second chance to pursue a career in science, but also made her realise that she had an aptitude for science.
“I was drilled to become the next medical doctor in the family, but five-year-old Felicia already knew she was going to be a scientist. Over the years, I have learned that there is no right or wrong path, only your path. During my Master's degree, which took five years to complete, I had to work hard to complete my studies because I was accountable for what I wanted in my life. During these years, I also learned more about what I am capable of and what it takes to be a scientist, which is grit."
The Northern Cape native says if it wasn't for Prof Dirk Bellstedt from her faculty who pushed her to continue with her studies, she might not have pursued a Master's degree.
“I was doing my usual back and forth between our lab and theirs when I heard Prof Bellstedt say that you only really know how to do science when you, at least, have your Master's degree. During your MSc you learn how to write and think like a scientist, plus you must plan your own experiments. He was not wrong. Another person who kept me level-headed during my postgraduate studies was my mother, Niekie Wells. Without her motivation during my studies I would have given up just before the finish line."
Wells' Master's research focused on identifying the bacterial populations present in the gut of ostrich chicks reared with their parents and how these populations change between the different parts of the gut. The reason behind this study was that ostrich chicks reared without their parents had a high death rate during the first three months after hatching, which was linked to gut infections. So, her study wanted to establish a baseline on how a healthy ostrich chick gut looks like.
Wells says she hopes to continue contributing to ground breaking research in natural and medical sciences and one day wants to visit schools across the country to encourage and inform learners about the broad scope of science.
More about SciMathUS
The SciMathUS programme forms part of a variety of units within the Faculty of Education at SU and specifically in the Stellenbosch University Centre for Pedagogy. The programme annually offers 100 learners, who have already passed Grade 12, but do not qualify for higher education selection, a second opportunity to improve their NSC results in Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Accounting to enable them to re-apply for university programmes; specifically those focusing on STEM related fields.
Since the inception of the SciMathUS programme in 2001, more than 1 000 students have successfully completed it. The programme focuses mainly on helping matric learners to improve their National Senior Certificate marks in Mathematics and Physical Sciences. The programme also offers Accounting and Introduction to Economics.
SciMathUS celebrates its 20th year of changing lives this year. The 20-year celebrations will take the form of an online campaign, called #ChangingLives. The aim is to make sure that the programme, with support from all stakeholders, continues to create even more opportunities for students to reach their full academic potential over the next 20 years.
Please follow SciMathUS' social media pages over the next few months, where the spotlight will shine on the programme as well as alumni who have since graduated and made great strides in their respective fields.
You can follow SciMathUS on the following channels:
Facebook – Stellenbosch Alumni / SciMathUS
Instagram – @MatiesAlumni / @scimathus
Twitter – @SU_Alumni / @SUNCEP
Join Maties Connect: https://matiesconnect.com/groups/53/feed
Matriculants who are interested in SciMathUS can contact Adele Poole at 021 808 3032 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the programme.