A “full plate” of tasks and studies brought University of Cape Town (UCT) geology honours student Sinongo “Nkazimulo” Zuma to this point – graduating her bachelor’s degree with three majors: geology, environmental and geographical science (EGS), and oceanography.
Nkazimulo, who is known as “Nkazi” to her friends, attributes her achievement to being able to operate at her best when she is at her busiest.
“I can only function fully and at my prime if I have a lot on my plate. Basically, I work extremely well under pressure and I produce great results,” said the 21-year-old.
From a demanding academic programme to student leadership and hobbies like roller skating, she carefully juggled them all, submitting tasks timeously, bringing her to the success of completing a triple-major degree.
“The evidence for this was my ability to handle three majors, two jobs and student leadership volunteer work and still do well academically. I noticed that if I don’t have a lot to do, I am much lazier and I actually don’t have the motivation to do the small amount of work that I have,” she said.
Nkazi came to UCT with the selected name of Millenium as she felt that it was a name that people would not struggle to pronounce.
“I prefer Nkazimulo or Nkazi. My mother gave me this name which can be loosely translated to ‘glory’. Essentially, my mother had a moment during my birth where she felt the Lord’s glory which was then bestowed upon me. She feels the Lord’s glory is what got her through my birth. So, she usually says due to this I am her glory, ‘iNkazimulo ka mama’.”
Thinking back to high school, Nkazi remembers a love for geography, which led in part to her degree path. Geology was a decision she made for salary and job prospects on the advice of a teacher and her family.
“I was and am still very passionate about geography. I was the top student in geography in my high school. During [the] awards day my geography teacher met with my family and we started talking about university and degree choices. They then all advised me to take geology as it’s a practical choice salary-wise and job opportunity and demand-wise. They said I could always go back and study geography when I have my own money to do so,” she said.
I realised I loved oceanography and I asked my student advisor if I could take it as a third major. He said my marks looked good so he was positive I would be able to handle a third major.”
“So I took their advice when I registered.”
Over the three years of her studies, however, through determination and keen interest, she expanded from geology to include two more subjects as degree majors.
“I applied to quite a few universities where I would have been doing just one major. But when I got here, I was surprised to find out I could take two.”
Although she had primarily wanted to be an environmentalist and study EGS, because she had been advised to take geology she registered for EGS and geology as her two majors in first year.
“In second year, I decided to take oceanography and atmospheric science as an elective just to try something different, but also because I was passionate about atmospheric science. At the beginning of third year, I realised I loved oceanography and I asked my student advisor if I could take it as a third major. He said my marks looked good so he was positive I would be able to handle a third major.”
Respecting people’s time was key for her in achieving the right balance to complete the degree. She recommends setting reminders and doing daily, weekly and monthly planning.
“I just always made sure I submit in time. I was a very interested and interactive student. I would set up appointments with my lecturers and I’d always ask for help even from my peers for assistance with course work. That helped me stay on top of things.”
“Graduating this time as we come out of lockdown restrictions is a dream come true. I am very excited.”
By the end of first year, she decided to add volunteer work and later student leadership duties to her plate, realising that a university was a place of opportunity to build a profile and gain experience. She began volunteering on Saturdays with Golden Future Project, tutoring high school pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
From there, she became a tutor at her residence, and then a member of the Science Students Council where she took on the portfolio of entertainment representative. In line with her environmentalist calling, she is now the Green Campus Initiative representative for the Forest Hill house committee, and earlier this year she was an orientation leader helping new students.
On the road with geology
What she did not expect was to develop a love for geology during her studies. The subject involves field work research and this was where she was in her element as she travelled to analyse geological structures and study geological history. Gathering data meant being hands-on in the field – kicking over and picking up rocks and analysing them. She also discovered how much she enjoyed being outdoors.
“When time came to apply for honours, I knew it would be geology. It’s still the more practical choice, but now a practical choice I love. So I have no regrets.”
These days, for her honours degree research, she finds herself in a geochemistry lab analysing samples linked to an ancient lake in Lesotho.
“[I am analysing these] to constrain the palaeoclimate of a time in geological history called the Early Jurassic. Essentially, I will be proving that the lake deposits can be associated with an arid climate. My project is lab-based. I had to analyse samples collected from the study area and check them for fossils called conchostrachans.
“But most importantly, I had to prepare the samples to be analysed for their major and elemental composition. During my undergrad [studies] I fell in love with geochemistry and I was lucky enough to get a geochemistry project.”
Time to shine
After her honours, she hopes to take a break from studying and go overseas. She’s looking at teaching English as a foreign language or au pairing, for the experience of a different culture and setting. The longer-term plan is to return to do her master’s and then find employment as a geologist.
For now, with this March 2022 graduation period including in-person walks of celebration, Nkazi is ready to put on something posh and relish the moment.
“Graduating this time as we come out of lockdown restrictions is a dream come true. I am very excited. The general consensus has been that after everything that has happened over the past couple of years, we deserve to have a more interactive graduation.”
Her celebration with friends and classmates will include toasting success over a good meal and maybe even a few daredevil thrills.
“The past few years I feel we’ve spent doubting ourselves and really just not realising that we deserve to be here.”
“The past few years I feel we’ve spent doubting ourselves and really just not realising that we deserve to be here, and we are working hard and we are actually doing very well for ourselves. [Afterwards] we can go and do something exhilarating like bungee jumping.
“I am expecting some of my family to come here for graduation. So I will also be having an intimate family dinner to celebrate.”
Between hitting the books, Nkazi finds time for new hobbies ranging from roller skating to painting and hiking. She places much importance on making sure there is time for a laugh, some adrenaline and creativity.
“I realised I have a short attention span so doing something new from time to time helped me a lot.”
Her advice for other students?
“My best tip for students generally is for them to acknowledge the importance of having a balance ... They will be at risk of burning out if they don’t balance academics with relaxation or a social life; because all work and no play really makes Jack a dull boy.”
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