School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science

BSc Augmented graduate Mr Siphiwe Maphalala with his proud parents, Thandi and Bethwell Maphalala.

BSc Augmented Programme Lays Foundation for Success

BSc Augmented student Mr Siphiwe Maphalala has graduated, majoring in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science.

‘Before pursuing my studies at UKZN I researched the University thoroughly,’ said Maphalala.  ‘I discovered that UKZN is well-known as one of the best producers of BSc students.  Its staff publish nationally and internationally and it has a good relationship with industry, so that one feels that the knowledge one obtains during one’s years of study is applicable to the working world and to real-life problems.  This really motivated me to study at UKZN.

‘Science fascinates me.  I enjoy the innovation within the field and the problem solving involved.  The field also offers many job opportunities.’

Maphalala followed in the footsteps of his older brother Siyabonga Maphalala, who is also a UKZN BSc graduate.

Apart from honing his problem-solving skills in the fields of applied mathematics and computer science, Maphalala said that the group work component of his degree taught him the important skills of teamwork and collaboration.

‘My degree also taught me self-discipline,’ he said, ‘because I learnt to always be in class on time and submit my work on time.

‘The ongoing change in the world with the Fourth Industrial Revolution is what motivated me to pursue my studies toward a Computer Science, Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics degree,’ said Maphalala.  ‘It has always been my dream to solve real-life problems using computational skills.’

Coming from a rural area with poor connectivity and network coverage, Maphalala said he was particularly fascinated by the rapid change technology is bringing into the world.  He hopes to bring these changes to his community so that they can benefit from technological initiatives and innovations.

‘I come from Bergville and it is my dream to open an Information Technology (IT) Academy that will introduce the digital world to my community, to see Tabhane Secondary School as the first high school to introduce IT in the area.  I believe that charity begins at home, and by me having these skills, my community and high school will gain.’

‘We use mathematics everywhere,’ said Maphalala.  ‘A mathematics major helps one gain fundamental knowledge of the subject so one can contribute to the future advancement of many industries. And a computer science major makes one have a faster, better and far more connected life. We are truly living in a digital age, driven by computer science.’

Maphalala is currently enrolled at UKZN for a BSc Honours degree in Computer Science. Thereafter, he hopes to find employment as a software engineer, software developer or data scientist.  And he does not rule out the possibility of a PhD one day.  ‘I am passionate about artificial intelligence, computer visioning, image processing and machine learning,’ he said.

Maphalala acknowledged the help of numerous people, including his parents, brothers and sisters; his high school Physical Science and Mathematics teachers; his lecturers Dr Simo Mthethwa and Mr Yougan Aungamuthu;  his friends and successful BSc role models Mr Siyanda Mungwe and Mr Siyabonga Tshabalala, his study group “The Legends”; and his friend Mr Lindani Cele who let him stay with him during lockdown in order to access connectivity.

Maphalala entered UKZN through the BSc Augmented programme, which gives students from disadvantaged backgrounds an extra year of skills training in the course of their degree studies.  He praised the programme for exposing him to different fields within science and assisting him in the transition from high school to university.  ‘It taught me to use study groups, about time management, setting priorities and other life skills.  These basic skills taught in first year set me on the right path for the rest of my degree.  A course in science communication provided me with the skills of researching and writing scientific reports, and improved my language skills.

‘The biggest struggle at university is making the adjustment from high school,’ said Maphalala.  ‘High school does not prepare you for university. In high school you are given a defined way to solve a problem but at university you have to teach yourself to solve problems. Ambition and passion are key.  Set goals and stop at nothing to achieve them.  There will be days when you just want to quit and you will make many sacrifices along the way.  Passion will motivate you to get through this journey.

‘Today I am a proud Computer Science, Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics graduate with 10 Certificates of Merit and a Dean’s Commendation, and I am doing my honours. All this wouldn’t have been possible if I was not given an opportunity to show how good I am.  Thank you UKZN and the founders of the BSc4 Augmented programme.

Together with friends from his Augmented class, Maphalala has started a WhatsApp group to encourage new students in the programme.

‘UKZN’s tagline says it all.  “Inspiring Greatness” means showing up and being there for people. Greatness is the little things you do to help others, which makes you a better human being at the end of the day.’

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal