National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Francois Slabber

Francois is from the Northern Cape and is studying for a BSc (Mechanical Engineering) at Stellenbosch University


 “The person that is probably my biggest inspiration is Siya Xuza. He is an energy-engineering Harvard University graduate from South Africa, who grew up under trying circumstances but made a success of his life.”


Tell us a bit about your school

I went to school in my hometown, Upington, a relatively small town in the Northern Cape. The high school I attended was Hoërskool Duineveld. It is an Afrikaans school with about 800 pupils. Duineveld excels in academics and has won prizes for the top maths and science school in the district, as well as the Northern Cape, numerous times. Sport is also a great part of the school, especially rugby and netball. Something special about Duineveld, I would say, is the fact that most of the pupils make the effort to be involved in the school and get to know everyone. Also, the teachers got to know every one of us personally, which made us all more comfortable in class, and also motivated us to achieve and reach our goals. The Duineveld teachers played an important part in my school achievements.

What were the biggest challenges you encountered at school that made it difficult for you to excel in maths and science? What did you do to overcome these challenges?

I never really faced big challenges that kept me from excelling in maths and science. My biggest challenge was time management. Sometimes I just kept postponing until I did not have enough time to do what I needed to do. I overcame this challenge by setting up a time table for my homework and studies. This actually helped me a lot and prevented me from getting into situations where I was pressed for time.

What advice do you have for matriculants who have to apply for places at higher education institutions?

Your Grade 11 and 12 marks are your most important marks and play a big role in determining what the future holds for you. Work hard and be determined to achieve your goals and get the highest marks you possibly can. That way it will be easier for you to get accepted for the course you want to do, at the university of your choice. And do not be late with your application; it will definitely count against you.

Where do you see yourself five years from now, in terms of your studies/career?

Five years from now I would probably want to be busy with my Master’s degree in engineering. I haven’t really thought about which field I want to specialize in, and I’m not sure where I want to be in 5 years’ time, in terms of my studies/career.

When/how did you realise you enjoyed science and mathematics more than your other school subjects?Did anyone play an important part in this, such as a teacher, parent or other role model?

There was never really a sudden moment of clarity when I realized I liked maths and science more than my other subjects. From a young age I enjoyed mathematics at school and I was also very good at it. From the first time I did science I also enjoyed it a lot. I think one of the main reasons I preferred these two subjects is because I understood it quicker than my other subjects, such as accounting or information technology. My teachers also played an important part in my liking for maths and science; they always found ways to make class interesting.

What/who inspires you?

The person that is probably my biggest inspiration is Siya Xuza. He is an energy-engineering Harvard University graduate from South Africa, who grew up under trying circumstances but made a success of his life. The message I get from his success, and that I will always keep with me, is that no matter what your circumstances are, if you work hard and are determined, you can achieve it. Dr Japie van Zyl, associate director of Project Formulation and Strategy at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is also one of my inspirations for studying engineering.

Why did you choose to study mechatronic engineering?

I chose this course because of my love for science, maths and technology. In Grade 11 I attended the University of Stellenbosch’s Engineering Winter Week to get a better perspective of what engineering entails. I was really fascinated with the things they showed us and decided then that this was probably what I wanted to study. In Grade 12, I was one of the finalists at the Mintek Minquiz competition, where Siya Xusa was one of the speakers. He talked about where his love for science and technology came from and his journey to success. From then on I was sure I wanted to study engineering.

Any other stories/tips/ideas/advice you would like to share that would be helpful to learners in Grades 11 and 12?

The best advice I can give is to be organised and to manage your time very carefully. You need to know when to do what. And also, be balanced. Take part in extramural activities such as sports and culture. It is not good for you to focus solely on your academics. Enjoy life!

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