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Mpendulo Cele receives top honours as best MSc student at SU
Author: Wiida Fourie-Basson
Published: 16/12/2020

Stellenbosch University's top MSc student for 2020, Mr Mpendulo Cele (25), praised his teachers at Zwelethu High School and the Kutlwanong Center of Mathematics and Science in Umlazi for helping him to enjoy and excel at Mathematics and Physical Sciences.

This week he is the recipient of the S2A3 medal for the best MSc student at Stellenbosch University for 2020. The bronze medal is awarded annually by the Southern Africa Association for the Advancement of Science to the most outstanding research student in the natural, engineering or medical sciences per South African university.

Mpendulo, who grew up in the care of his grandmother at Izonglweni, a rural area in the southern part of KwaZulu-Natal, says he initially scored only average marks for mathematics at school.

It was only when he arrived Zwelethu High School that this mathematics teachers, Mr Bongumusa Alphus Magwaza, helped him to improve his marks: “That is the year I really started to like mathematics," he recounts.

Because of this new-found self-confidence, he also took Physical Science in Grade 9. And by Grade 10 he was encouraged to enrol for extra classes at the Kutlwanong Center of Mathematics and Science in Umlazi.

“Because of the wonderful teachers at Zwelethu and Kutlwanong, my marks improved for all my subjects and in Grade 12 I was the best student at Zwelethu High School".

He subsequently graduated with a BSc-degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2017, followed by a BScHons-degree in mathematics with a focus on Number Theory.

He then started looking for a study-leader to pursue his interest in Number Theory, and approached Dr Sophie Marques at Stellenbosch University. To strengthen his foundational knowledge in Number Theory, Dr Marques recommended that he should apply for the ALGANT scholarship, a competitive international programme in Algebra, Geometry and Number Theory. Stellenbosch University is the only South African university which forms part of this programme. During 2019 Mpendulo successfully completed seven master modules at the University of Padova in Italy, earning him a joint degree between SU and the University of Padova.

Dr Marques says she is particularly proud of the way her student persevered despite a number of challenges, including coming from a disadvantaged background: “Against all odds, he has strived and overcame everything that came his way".

“I appreciate his ability to prove and disprove the ideas I throw at him. This allowed us to make impressive progress on the research problem. He is also incredibly hardworking, and there was not a week that he would not send me a progress report," she added.

Mpendulo will now continue with his doctoral research in Number Theory under Dr Marquez' guidance.

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