For Reece van Belkum, growing up in an automotive mechanical workshop with his father, always intrigued his interest with mechanical devices.
“I remember wondering how does metal extracted from the soil and liquid fuels from the earth’s crust work coherently to propel a vehicle? It was beyond me at the time, and I was super fascinated in the world of science. I would often find myself stripping discarded components and breaking assemblies down to a bare minimum to try and understand more. This is what initially sparked my interest in engineering. Today I am pleased that I’m fixing more than breaking,” said the euphoric Durban University of Technology graduand.
He has obtained Cum Laude and the Dean’s Merit awards in is BTech degree in Mechanical Engineering qualification, and will be graduating at the Durban University of Technology’s (DUT’s) Virtual Graduation ceremony on 10 June 2020 at 12pm.
“Back in 2015 when I started my engineering journey, I would have been in complete disbelief that obtaining the Dean’s Merit award alongside my Cum Laude result would be possible. It is such an honour to receive such a prestigious accolade. Reflecting on my life’s achievements, this is most definitely the greatest pinnacle yet, which took boundless effort, work ethic, energy, passion, attitude, dedication and most importantly a tenacious and positive mindset,” said Van Belkum.
DUT gave him the opportunity he needed to pursue his passion by enrolling him after many other university’s had denied his application due to unsatisfactory high school results, coupled with an unfavourable gap year. However, he knew that the challenging Mechanical Engineering course was a perfect match for him. “I knew that this opportunity was my best chance of feeling self-accomplished, and would be a step needed in making something better of myself,” he said.
Studying has been a real tough ride for Van Belkum. His first semester had passed, and he nearly didn’t. Nevertheless, going forward he never wanted to feel that sense of failure and self-doubt again. “I knew I had to take my ‘give-it-all’ approach to a whole new level and so I did by creating a lifestyle of much temporary sacrifice for a greater future,” he stressed. As time went by for Van Belkum, his academic average kept growing steadily throughout his Diploma and his interests grew exponentially. He completed his Diploma with a near miss at Cum Laude in the prescribed three-year minimum time.
After a six-month break, post in-service training, he knew he still had much to learn. “Consuming knowledge soon became an itch that could not be satisfactorily scratched without continuing my studies. Before I knew it, I enrolled to study further in mid-2018 as I was eager to take on my BTech with new goals, under new life circumstances which brought out even more challenges,” he said.
He completed his BTech degree whilst maintaining a full-time job which was an extremely fatiguing routine, consisting of countless late nights behind books and not a weekend of grace. “This could also be due to the fact that I took more than the recommended number of modules that was prescribed for working students per semester,” said Van Belkum. He is proud that he has completed his BTech in what felt like a record-breaking time of one and a half years.
“This may sound strange but I would literally carry around my calculator in my pocket as if it was a cellphone, because oddly enough the solutions to some of my thoughts regarding engineering problems would come to me at the strangest of times,” he said.
Van Belkum also knows that his late parents would have been especially proud of him, and he is also very grateful that his two brothers, friends and his loving partner have continuously supported and believed in him through it all.
Speaking more on his journey to success, Van Belkum added that the DUT BTech WhatsApp group created by the students for the mechanical engineering students kept him sane and often made him laugh with the funniest of memes, which only engineers would find humor in. “Receiving a message at around 2am was a given and by 5am one could expect 30 or more messages regarding great attempts to find solutions to nearly ‘impossible’ problems, especially during exam time. This was motivating in the sense that I knew I was ‘facing the struggle’ with a group of like-minded individuals where we could problem solve together which brought alight even more intriguing questions and thought processes,” he said.
Although he knows this graduation will be virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this will not impact him tremendously as he feels more at ease that DUT is taking the recommended safety precautions and reaching out with their new digital approach.
He indicated that he would like to study further and has been actively applying for bursaries to study his Master’s degree. “I would want to study my Masters part-time, or full-time if possible, and specialise in a field tending towards the heavy industry where my interests lie,” he said.
His future goals involve becoming an ECSA registered Pr.Tech, and he is hoping to obtain a mentorship to pursue this. “I am not sure where the road will lead me in years to come, but I do know that I am as excited as ever and that I want to innovate, improve and create what has never been. I feel obligated to uplift those who want to pursue engineering as a profession and the need to encourage the learning of science from a young age,” he said.
Van Belkum’s advice to future engineering students is that it’s definitely a field that will open one’s mind to a world one previously would have never put much thought to.
Pictured: Reece van Belkum