National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Isaac Monako Modisa

Isaac is from Gauteng and is studying for a BSc (Mechanical Engineering) at University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). Isaac achieved 100% for both Maths and Physical Science in Matric and was awarded one of only 4 THRIP bursaries at the NSTF Awards Gala Dinner in 2015.


                                          On Who inspires me

“Nikola Tesla, the 19th century engineer and inventor… He changed how the world works, from the invention of the AC current, X-ray, radio and remote control to motors, laser light and others. He is a true definition of what I want to see myself achieving.”

Who or what Were you always a top performer at school?

In primary school I was underperforming, to be honest. I wasn’t one of the top 10 learners in the school during the 3 years that the top 10 was introduced. The awards I did get were for sport, being a school leader and serving in the scholar patrol. Maybe I was just too young to realise the significance of performing to the best of one’s ability.

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?

There where sections of work that did not make sense to me at all, to such an extent that I almost resorted to memorising. But I was fortunate to attend Saturday school (sponsored by Investec bank), which meant I could be exposed to a different teacher, who explained things differently. With this I do not mean my normal school teacher was not teaching well. He was, but I needed to hear a different explanation. I made a point of asking questions until I finally understood a section.

Tell us more about how it feels to be at university?

Wits is in the big city, which is one of the things that makes university life interesting and challenging at the same time. On the one hand it has always been my dream to come here and even today, having been here for about 7 months or so, it still feels like my first day! On the other hand, there are so many things happening here which one was never exposed to at home in the rural areas, because we were under the watchful eye of our parents. So it’s a place fit only for those who can face and resist temptations.

Why did you choose to study mechanical engineering?

I am so in love with finding out how things work, how and why a car moves, an airplane lifting. The application of the principles of physics is immensely interesting.

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

Go all out, be it sleeping late, waking up in the morning, whatever you are doing. Anything that works best for you, use it. Your last few years at school may determine whether you get a job in the next 3 or 4 years… Look for past papers and make sure you solve every single problem. Take notes, ask questions where things are unclear and make studying a fun thing to do, because it is fun!

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?

In high school (Sikhululekile Secondary School in Hammanskraal, outside Pretoria) I started discovering my potential. In my Grade 8 year our maths teacher, Mrs Morake, gave us a huge amount of homework, about 20 problems per day, even more for weekends. This led to me spending more time doing maths problems than other subjects. Eventually maths was what I enjoyed doing. At the time, physics (which is also one of my favourite subjects) was not part of my curriculum. It was introduced in grade 10 and like they say, maths and science (physics in particular) are brothers and sisters.

What/who inspires you?

Nikola Tesla, the 19th century engineer and inventor. He might not have profited fully from his ideas because he failed to protect his commercial interests, thus allowing other inventers to profit from his ideas. But what does it matter? He changed how the world works, from the invention of the AC current, X-ray, radio and remote control to motors, laser light and others. He is a true definition of what I want to see myself achieving.

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

Be sure that you apply for what you really want, since it is something you will be doing your whole life. Don’t choose a course just because your friends are doing it; believe me, when it gets really hard the only thing that will keep you going is the love you have for your study field. If you are not happy with your choice, it will be easy for you to drop out since your conclusion will be that it is not for you. If you already applied for something you do not want, a gap year is not such a bad idea.

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

I love this question! I see myself working for a good company to earn a living, but at the same time going into my workshop/laboratory in my garage when I return from work, where I will be experimenting with science and technology. I see myself being the next Nikola Tesla who might change the world’s perspective about Africa!

Subscribe to our eNews

Sign up to receive news on what is happening in science, engineering, technology (SET) and innovation in South Africa

Copyright © 2023 All Rights Reserved | National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)