Just chilling for the holidays? No way! Not Veronique Meyer! She gave up part of her holiday to help learners from her Alma Mater gain practical experience in testing water. Veronique, a former learner from Lückhoff High in Stellenbosch, is doing her master’s in microbiology in, among others, environmental biotechnology with a focus on the water quality of one of South Africa’s biggest rivers.

She recently heard via a school friend that learners from her former school were struggling to complete the practical part of their biology curriculum, in which they were expected to conduct experiments on water samples from a local river. “We’re studying the nature of pollution of the Kromme River in the Lindida area and we approached Veronique to help determine whether the water could be polluted with Escherichia coli bacteria,” explains the school friend’s mother, Cheryl King, who is a teacher at Lückhoff.

Even though she had never taught before, Veronique decided to take a chance and made enquiries about the possibility of presenting a practical session for the Lückhoff learners at Stellenbosch University. Since the University was closed for the holidays, the Department of Microbiology agreed to Veronique presenting a session in one of the well-equipped undergraduate laboratories in the JC Smuts Building. She was assisted by Erika Olivier, also a master’s student in microbiology.
“I was nervous at first but, when I started drawing sketches and explaining how we’d do the practical, the rest came naturally,” Veronique says about her first teaching experience for 20 Grade 11 learners. “All my nervousness just disappeared.”

The learners had brought bottles filled with water from the Kromme River for the experiments. Veronique showed them how to use MacConkey agar to test for the presence of bacteria that occur in the digestive tract, such as E. coli. The learners then did the practical work themselves. The slides on which they worked were incubated overnight at 44°C, after which the colonies of bacteria were counted. Veronique took the results to the school the next day and helped the learners to process the data. “According to the learners’ tests, we could see that the Kromme River was indeed polluted,” she explains.

According to Cheryl, it was an unforgettable experience for the learners to do a practical in a well-equipped laboratory – one that motivated them immeasurably. “There are so many children who just get lost along the way,” Veronique says about what motivated her to become involved in an outreach action. “I felt it was my duty to motivate even just one from the group to do something with her or his life.” She says that the experience has awakened something in her and that she hopes to become involved in a similar action in the future.

Her supervisor, Prof Alf Botha of the Department of Microbiology, is very proud of the initiative taken by Veronique to organise and present such a session on her own. “She’s an example to many of us,” he believes.

Released by:
Engela Duvenage, Media: Faculty of Science, Stellenbosch University
021 808 2684 science@sun.ac.za 082 874 1291

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