Sixty-four-year-old Hugh Chittenden of Eshowe never went to university but his knowledge of birds amassed over the years has earned him an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).


Explaining why he didn’t study at tertiary level Chittenden said: ‘When I was young I just wasn’t interested!’


Now the owner of a bed and breakfast establishment, Chittenden – who describes himself as a ‘retired horticulturist with a birding hobby’ - has spent much of his life observing, recording, photographing and writing about birds in relation to the geography, fauna and flora of many southern African regions.


Chittenden has made a major and distinguished contribution in KwaZulu-Natal and southern Africa to the public understanding of science in the field of ornithology.  That significant achievement is why UKZN awarded him a Doctor of Science honoris causa at one of their Graduation ceremonies this week.


He is regarded as one of South Africa’s finest bird photographers and his work has graced the pages of many Southern African birding publications. UKZN praised Chittenden for his efforts in increasing the publics’ understanding of ornithology, calling his knowledge “encyclopaedic”.


His many books, journal articles, presentations, speeches, personal notes, field notes, travel journals, and other records constitute a valuable source of primary information for present and future scholars, not only of ornithology but also of climatic and environmental change.


The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Science Access programme worked a treat for 22-year-old Ms Nompumelelo Basi of Umzimkulu who has graduated summa cum laude with a BSc honours degree in Physics.

Basi’s father, Mr Xolani Basi, supported her dreams of studying after school and their joint determination saw her enter UKZN through the Science Access Programme in 2007, registering for a four-year BSc augmented degree.  The option allows students from disadvantaged backgrounds to spread their first year of study over two years, making it possible for them to receive intensive tuition as well as assistance with life and study skills. 

Her first year of study was sponsored through a bursary from the South African Nuclear Human Assert and Research Programme (SANHARP) and her good results ensured continued financial assistance from the programme.

Last year Basi graduated with a BSc in Computational Physics.

Basi, who received Certificate of Merit (COM) awards for all five modules of her honours degree, included courses in quantum mechanics, electrodynamics, solid state physics and biomedical physics in her studies.  ‘Personally I liked biomedical physics the best because it is more applicable in real life.’

She said she was very proud of her achievements.  ‘My family is proud of me too!’ Her hard work and excellent results won her a studentship with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), enabling her to register for her Masters degree.  ‘Maybe I will even continue to PhD, but we will see how it goes. I'm still trying to come up with a topic for my Masters.’

In her spare time Basi plays netball for UKZN and serves on the netball team committee.
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Senior Professor in Agricultural Economics, Professor Gerald Ortmann, has been made a Fellow of the University of KwaZulu- Natal (UKZN) for life!


The honour was bestowed on Ortmann at the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science’s Pietermaritzburg Graduation ceremony on Monday 23 April.


The award, made by the University Council, recognises distinguished academic achievement from a UKZN staff member, whose work is of such high quality it merits special recognition. ‘I am very honoured to have been awarded the Fellowship,’ said Ortmann. 


Ortmann’s academic achievements are varied and numerous.  He has published more than 110 peer-reviewed journal papers and has also reviewed articles for a number of local and international journals.


He achieved a B2 rating (2003-2007) from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and served on the NRF Assessment Panel for Economics, Management, Administration and Accounting in 2004, 2006 and 2007 to evaluate academics for rating purposes.


Ortmann, who currently enjoys a C1 rating from the NRF, has spent sabbaticals at universities in the United States and in Germany.


As a Supervisor of postgraduate students, Ortmann has ample proof of his commitment to excellence with 33 M
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Mr John Flanagan, who graduated cum laude with a BSc in Agribusiness degree, developed a passion for agriculture from a young age while spending holidays and weekends on his uncles’ farms in Zimbabwe. This passion for agriculture, combined with a “family tradition” of studying at UKZN, led to him enrolling on the Pietermaritzburg campus.

Flanagan, who won the prestigious Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship for his postgraduate studies, is now busy with his Masters degree. The scholarship selection procedure is very strict with academic performance being a key factor. Winners of the scholarship must, however, also be true to the core principles of the foundation, which include leadership, entrepreneurship, education and reconciliation.

Flanagan credits much of his personal development to his involvement with the NCF Church in Pietermaritzburg where he says he honed his leadership skills.

Flanagan, who grew up in Gweru in Zimbabwe, says he wants to be involved in education and see it working well in Africa. While he also aims to be involved in agriculture and farming in the future, he feels his passion for agriculture and Africa may be better served by working with rural communities, particularly in Southern Africa.

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Professor Mark Laing, Senior Professor in Plant Pathology and Director of the internationally acclaimed African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) has a knack of gathering students from exotic locations.

His latest crop of graduates who acquired their doctoral degrees through the University of KwaZulu-Natal include Mounirou El-Hassimi Sow of  Niger, Honoré Kam of Burkina Faso and Kouadio Nasser Yao of the Ivory Coast, who all worked in Benin at the AfricaRice Research Centre in the laboratory of Dr Marie-Nouelle Ndjiondjop. 

Sow travelled more than 2000km by canoe, boat and motor cycle across Niger to visit and interview rice farmers.  During the course of his travels he collected about 270 ancient rice varieties - many threatened with extinction - from an inaccessible region of Africa where indigenous landraces of rice had not been collected before.

Sow’s rice collection was then characterised in field trials and using DNA profiles. Novel genes for resistance to rice yellow mottle virus were found, and the best gene for resistance against the virus was transferred in elite rice varieties using marker assisted backcrossing.

Laing described Sow’s doctoral research as ‘a fascinating study of what the DNA tells us of the history of rice cultivation in Africa over several thousand years’.

Fellow graduate Kam’s travels were even more epic.  He logged up 4000km in the course of his motor cycle trip across Burkina Faso, during which he collected 330 ancient African and Asian rice varieties.

Kam interviewed hundreds of farmers about rice production, their preference and problems. He then characterised the rice varieties using classical and genomic approaches. Finally, he identified varieties with resistance genes against

Ten years of hard graft have come to fruition for UKZN Lecturer Ms Marion Young who graduated with a PhD following research into transforming horse feeds.

A staff member in the Poultry and Animal Sciences Discipline in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Young grew up in Ladysmith surrounded by animals. ‘We always had creatures around and doing an agriculture degree was not really a quantum leap in logic,’ she said.


After completing her BSc in Agriculture, Young started a Masters degree, studying effective energy in the formulation of feeds for laying hens. ‘I enjoyed the fresh air and the work and the material that had to be processed and the conclusions that could be drawn,’ she said.  The progression to PhD studies was therefore natural.


Reading Young’s PhD citation at the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science’s Pietermaritzburg Graduation ceremony, College Dean of Research, Professor Deo Jaganyi, said: ‘The horse industry in South Africa has an annual turnover of more than R3 billion. However, the technology of feeding horses is trapped in myth and manure. Marion Young’s study reveals a critical need to convert the profiles of commercial horse feeds to very different combinations of protein, carbohydrate, fat and fibre, to optimise the health and performance of sport horses.’


Young’s dissertation was titled: “Improving the Nutritional Representation of Horse Feeds in South Africa”.  Her Supervisor, Professor Mark Laing, labelled her research ‘very different’, and a ‘fascinating study on the nutrition of horses and what horses really need in their food, as opposed to what they are getting at the moment’.


Laing said the research had the potential to fundamentally change the way horse feeds were designed ‘in much the same way that UKZN’s Professor Rob Gous radically transformed poultry feeds on a global scale two decades ago’.


Young said she loved being a Lecturer. ‘I enjoy the interaction with the students and try to cultivate an attitude of enjoyment in our knowledge-building. We all have a valuable contribution to make to that beautiful universe out there! It pleases me to see my students using their
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A young woman holding a BSc degree arrived at UKZN from Lesotho four years ago ready for postgraduate studies, but fearful of the challenges that lay ahead.


Today, a confident Ms Mamoalosi Selepe – regarded as a star student by her Supervisor Professor Fanie van Heerden - has a doctoral degree in synthetic organic chemistry.


Selepe was born and raised in Lesotho and obtained her BSc degree in Chemical Technology at the National University of Lesotho in 2007.  The following year she decided to pursue her postgraduate studies at UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus and since then, she has flourished into a competent researcher and scientist.  She completed her Masters degree in record time, achieving a distinction for her dissertation.


One of her biggest challenges as a young BSc university student was to learn physics for the first time.  ‘I had to deal with my fears first,’ she said.   ‘In the end, with hard work and help from my peers, I made it – in fact, I passed physics better than most of my other subjects.’


Selepe cited her Honours studies as being another milestone.  ‘The work load increased tremendously compared with that in undergrad,’ she said. ‘Coming to UKZN, I had to learn to manage the increased work load and adjust to a new environment.’ 


Selepe says she fell in love with her Honours project, which focused on the synthesis of tetrahydrobenzylisoquinolines, which have important biological activities such as anti-HIV.  She believed her project to be important and found the synthesizing of organic compounds in the laboratory a lot of fun. 


Selepe’s PhD research focused on the synthesis of biologically-active isoflavonoids.  The project was started by preparing the isoflavonoid, kraussianone 1, which was isolated from
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BSC summa cum laude graduate Mr Connor Seamus Stobie is no stranger to UKZN.  Born and raised in Pietermaritzburg, he was well acquainted with the local campus before he started his studies as both his parents work at the university.


His mother, Professor Cheryl Stobie, has been in English Studies since 1985 while his father, Professor Bruce Stobie, has been part of the Auditing Department at the University for 41 years! 


Both parents were bursting with pride when Connor graduated with honours at the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Sciences ceremony.


Connor said he found his majors, psychology and genetics, very interesting and highly complementary. He particularly enjoyed the mathematical and statistical aspects of the courses from each discipline, finding the research elements fascinating. 


He received 19 Certificates of Merit over his three-year degree, with six Dean's Commendations. He was awarded the Kathleen Gordon Grey prize for the best third year student in Plant Systematics and the prize for the best second year student in Recombinant DNA Technology.


Stobie is currently registered for an Honours degree in Genetics at UKZN.   He said he hated having to make a decision between studying genetics and psychology, as he found both subjects stimulating and important.


If everything goes well, he might continue with his Masters at UKZN, ‘although at this moment in time I have no idea what the future holds’.

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Whilst most pensioners are content to enjoy their well-earned retirement, 70-year-old Ms Patricia Wallis of Pietermaritzburg decided otherwise and studied molecular soil ecology.

Today Wallis boasts a PhD degree in Soil Science!

And her Supervisors - Dr Louis Tishall, Mr Charles Hunter and Mr Craig Morris - are united in their view that her dedication, perseverance and flair for molecular techniques had led to significant findings which revealed the profound influence that different agricultural management practices have on soil microbial diversity.

‘The results of her doctoral research highlight the potential impact man’s activities could have on this essential component of the soil ecosystem,’ said Hunter.  Wallis’ dissertation was titled: “The effects of land use and management practices on the soil microbial diversity as determined by PCR-DGGE and CLPP”.

At UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Sciences’ Pietermaritzburg Graduation ceremony, the average age of the celebrating students was a good 50 years less than Wallis’s – yet the remarkable woman says it’s never too late to graduate.

Her husband, Professor Mike Wallis, is a retired Professor of Microbiology who worked on the Pietermaritzburg campus for many years, and she worked alongside him as a member of support staff in the microbiology laboratories. 

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Professor Janusz Zwolinski, who Headed up UKZN’s forestry programme from 1999 until his untimely death in 2010, would have been a proud observer at the University’s 2012 Graduation ceremonies.


His son, Alexander, graduated summa cum laude with a BSc degree (Life and Earth Sciences), and his daughter, Magda, graduated with a BSc degree in Electronic Engineering. His other daughter Maja, is also a UKZN graduate (BSocSciHons Media & Marketing).


Alexander, who majored in Microbiology and Plant Pathology, said exploration had been a big part of his childhood. ‘My parents encouraged me to appreciate the world around me and learn about the natural world. I still have many books I used to read about plants, the ocean, the human body, science and chemistry.’ As a child he was an avid collector, gathering fossils, plants and shells which he carefully labeled.


Alexander said he had particularly enjoyed Chemistry. ‘I loved the Department, the lecturers were excellent, the lab facilities were incredible and chemistry practicals were challenging but interesting.’


He found his second-year organic chemistry module to be the most challenging in his degree, but also one of the best. ‘It pushed me to work harder and challenge myself,’ he said.


Alexander was introduced to plant pathology in his second year and immediately became interested in doing further studies in the field. ‘There are so many areas that still need to be investigated. There are many “unknowns”, new pathogens and new diseases. Our prized crops are at risk and it is up to plant pathologists to help avert disaster.’


He obtained 16 certificates of merit during his undergraduate studies and was also awarded the Rijkenberg Prize for best second year plant pathology student and the third year Link Seeds Award and Inqaba Biotech award for best third year plant pathology student.


Ms Kirthie Pillay, who graduated with a PhD in Human Nutrition, is making a bit of habit of being pregnant while studying!


She was awarded her doctorate on 16 September last year, just a week before baby Parisa was born and she completed her Masters in November 2007 when baby Farhan was just four months old.


Pillay registered for her PhD in August 2009 managing to complete her degree in just two years, being pregnant while she wrote her thesis.


‘Both my children represent such tremendous achievements in my life, and they have made all of my hard work and perseverance feel all the more special,’ said Pillay.


Being from a traditional Indian family the duties of a wife and mother usually take precedence, but thanks to her husband Shaun’s support and encouragement, Pillay has managed to realise and attain all the goals she set out to achieve.


She also paid tribute to the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science and UKZN for valued support. In the first semester last year while Pillay was a Lecturer in the Discipline of Dietetics and Human Nutrition she was given lecture relief which allowed her to complete her write up, and in the second semester in 2010 she was given the opportunity to go on sabbatical.

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Not meeting the entry requirements for a BSc did not deter Ms Tristan Duthie from pursing the course of study she had set her heart on.

Determined to study Environmental Science, she then registered for a Bachelor of Social Science in Environmental Science at UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus.

Her excellent performance in her first year caught the attention of the Geography Department which led to her transfer from Social Sciences to the Bachelor of Science programme in her second year. Duthie’s strong academic performance continued and she was awarded a total of 19 Certificates of Merit and the Dean’s Commendation every year on her way to graduating summa cum laude with a BSc in Environmental Science.

Duthie’s keen interest in Geography throughout her secondary schooling led her to her current career path. Her passion translated into excellent academic performance, which has been rewarded by UKZN in the form of scholarships and merit awards.

She says she had a “fantastic time” at UKZN, and was looking forward to her honours year, with the full intention of completing a Master’s degree in the future.

Duthie was particularly appreciative of the quality and calibre of the Geography Department, saying her class and Department were a very close-knit group. While she was excited to be graduating, she expressed her gratitude to Mrs Jacquie Whyte and Mr Trevor Hill, who were instrumental in her transfer to the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, and acknowledged their role in her transition to the Sciences.

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