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Meet Tapiwa Shendelane: 15 year old Engineering Student

- Refilwe Mabula

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.”

This famous quote by the wordsmith Mark Twain has proved to be true for 15-year-old Tapiwa Shendelane, who is said to be the youngest Industrial Engineering student at Wits. She is one of three 15-year-olds enrolled at Wits this year.

The teen from Thulamahashe near Bushbuckridge in Mpumalanga matriculated with six distinctions last year at Orhovelani High School.

Tapiwa does not mind being the youngest amongst her classmates at Wits.

“Somehow I feel like we are the same age. I really do not feel 15. I only think about it once in a while. It is almost like it’s been programmed that I am 18 or 19 because I have always had older classmates.”

She laughs, adding that “nobody knows that I am 15.”

When asked about accepting such a young person into engineering, Professor Ian Jandrell, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment says that “readiness for university is a state of mind, not age.”

“A university must always challenge the status-quo, and we often conflate age with maturity and preparedness,” he adds.

Tapiwa’s excellent grades in school saw her getting promoted twice in Grade 5 and Grade 8 where she only completed the first quarter of both grades before progressing to the next grades – which she also completed with ease.

Academic excellence is the norm in her family, with all her siblings performing well in school and an eight-year-old sister who is already in Grade four, two grades above the average eight-year-old.

She chose to study Industrial Engineering after exploring a number of careers.

“I was not sure of what I wanted to be, sometimes I wanted to be a chartered accountant, sometimes I wanted to be a medical doctor. I wanted to be everything. I wanted to be an astronaut, pilot, presenter, doctor, advocate etc.”

“I had a lot of ideas going through my head,” she says.

Her key to excellence is to understand the work in class first before studying for exams. She advises other students to “work smart and not hard”.

Although she is only 15 years old, the transition from high school to university has not been a challenge. The mature youngster has adjusted quite quickly to the academic demands and is coping well within the new environment.

Tapiwa talks to John Robbie on TalkRadio 702