The name Cecile Bester will certainly make it into the history books of the faculty of AgricSciences at the Stellenbosch University (SU) following her rare feat of scooping three awards in one academic year.
Every year the faculty awards top students for their academic achievements but never before has one student received three accolades in the history of the faculty. Some staff members in the faculty confirmed that this does not happen quite often.
Bester received the awards during a low-key ceremony that coincided with the university’s March graduation week.
Last year she graduated cum laude with a BScAgric degree in Genetics and Plant Pathology as majors and achieved an average of 86.7%. And for this achievement she was awarded AI Perold medal as one of the two top students in the faculty.
This was followed by the Hofmeyr-Van Schaik medal for her being the best fourth year student in Genetics at SU. The third award Bester received was in recognition of her being the best student in Plant Breeding. The awards were sponsored by the South African Genetics Society and the Southern African Plant Breeders’ Association respectively.
Willem Botes, chairperson of the department of genetics, said the Plant Breeding Award is only awarded in instance of exceptional achievement and that therefore it is not presented every year.
Bester’s choice of her current field of study dates back to her early school days at Ficksburg High School in the Free State, where she was deputy head girl during her matric year in 2016.
At the time she wanted to study medicine, but after a visit to the Small Grain Institute in neighbouring Bethlehem she changed her mind and decided to pursue a BScAgric degree.
Despite the fact that she did not have any inkling about what it entails she stuck to her choice. And true to form, it dawned on her during her first year that agriculture was her niche. Bester said she enjoys the opportunity to contribute to the expansion of the agricultural sector in a practical way. “It is wonderful to be involved in agriculture on a scientific level,” added Bester.
She reckons that while she was growing up as a child she felt she was destined to become a [female] scientist. “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,” said Bester, who is an avid hiker and tennis player.
In order to focus on her academic passions: genetics and plant breeding, Bester has joined the Plant Breeding research group under the leadership of Willem Botes to pursue MScAgric in Genetics.
She will be planting and studying seed from the faculty’s wild wheat species collection. The idea is to ascertain if there are any valuable genes locked up in these and if these can possibly 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.
Bester comes from the family who have strong academic bonds with the SU. Her parents have completed their degrees at the SU, while her two siblings (Marelie and Hendrik) are currently studying Physics and agriculture respectively, at the same institution.