Stellenbosch University
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Agricultural student clinches three awards
Author: Engela Duvenage
Published: 09/04/2021

​​The permanent message on agriculture student Cecile Bester's Whatsapp status summarises the purposefulness and attitude with which she undertakes her studies: “The world is divided between the people who will start tomorrow and the people who have already started today."

Bester recently received three of the academic awards which are awarded annually to top students within the Faculty of AgriSciences. That doesn't happen every day, says faculty staff who are in the know.

Bester last year graduated cum laude with a BScAgric degree in Genetics and Plant Pathology as majors and achieved an average of 86.7%. That is why she received the AI Perold medal as one of the Faculty of AgriSciences's two top students.

In addition, she scooped the Hofmeyr-Van Schaik medal as the best fourth year student in Genetics at SU, and also received an award as the best student in Plant Breeding. The awards were sponsored by the South African Genetics Society and the Southern African Plant Breeders' Association respectively.

The Plant Breeding Award is not presented every year, says Willem Botes, chairperson of the Department of Genetics, and is only awarded in instance of exceptional achievement.

The awards were presented to her during a small ceremony that coincided with the March 2021 graduation week.

On the experience of completing her undergraduate studies under Covid regulations, Cecile says: “We had to adapt to study during COVID. That said, one's studies are never without adjustments. I was in the fortunate position to return to Stellenbosch for my modules. The most difficult was the knowledge that I had lost a lost of practical knowledge because some of the modules could only be offered online."

At school at Ficksburg High School in the Free State she had considered studying medicine, but after a visit to the Small Grain Institute in neighbouring Bethlehem she decided to pursue a BScAgric degree. It is a decision which she has never regretted, although she admits that, at the time, she was not really sure wat it would involve.

She already realised in her first year that she had found her niche. Bester is a scientist in the true sense of the word, and enjoys the opportunity to contribute to the expansion of the agricultural sector in a practical way.

“As a child I used to play university-university, as other children would play school-school," she remembers. “I walked around the garden with a little book and like a real little scientist noted my observations of birds and insects. I made all sorts of concoctions and spread them on trees, to see if they would draw bees.

“It is wonderful to be involved in agriculture on a scientific level," says Bester, who was deputy head girl of Ficksburg High School in her matric year in 2016.

During her undergraduate years she was head mentor of Serruria Residence, and class representative for Genetics and Plant Pathology. She is an avid hiker and tennis player.

Bester joined the Plant Breeding research group of Willem Botes this year to pursue an MScAgric in Genetics. It allows her to focus on two of her academic passions: genetics and plant breeding.

She will be planting and studying seed from the Faculty's wild wheat species collection to see if there are any valuable genes locked up in these which can possible be used to eventually breed more disease-resistant wheat cultivars.

“I am passionate about research and development and love being involved in it," says Bester.

The Besters have strong bonds with Stellenbosch University. Dad Nico, who is nowadays among others a mentor for emerging farmers in the Free State, achieved a degree in Agricultural Economics in the 1990s at SU. Mom Aninne qualified as mathematics teacher. Cecile's sister, Marelie, recently registered as first-year student in Physics at SU, while her brother, Hendrik, is also studying agriculture. He is a third-year BScAgric student in Agronomy and Soil Science. In 2018 he represented South Africa in the African Mountain Bike Championships in Egypt.​