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A twenty three year old University of Botswana graduate in Mechanical Engineering, Dineo Serame, has clinched the world’s most prestigious scholarship, The Rhodes Scholarship, valued at about three million pula, to study at the University of Oxford in October 2019. Dineo graduated from the University of Botswana in 2018 with a very good GPA which put her in an excellent position to apply for some of the world’s best scholarships. Around 300 applicants from Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia and Swaziland applied for the scholarship and only the best five were shortlisted. Three of these were from Malawi, one from Lesotho and one from Botswana. Of the five shortlisted applicants, Dineo was the only female. She was invited for an interview at the five-star Rosebank Hotel in Johannesburg known as The Monarch, where she spent two nights in the lap of sheer luxury enjoying exquisite food. The interview was held the morning of Saturday November 17th, 2018 and the results were released the same day in the afternoon with Dineo selected unanimously as the strongest candidate.
The Rhodes Scholarship is not granted to a candidate with the best academic results. The selection criteria for Rhodes Scholars is based on Cecil John Rhodes’s Will which reads:
“My desire being that the students who shall be elected to the Scholarships shall not be merely bookworms. I direct that in the election to a Scholarship regard shall be had to (i) his literary and scholastic attainments (ii) his fondness of and success in outdoor sports such as cricket football and the like (iii) his qualities of truth courage devotion to duty sympathy for and protection of the weak kindliness unselfishness and fellowship and (iv) his exhibition during school days of moral force of character and of instincts to lead and to take an interest in his schoolmates for those latter attributes will be likely in afterlife to guide him to esteem the performance of public duties as his highest aim.”
Apart from a shift in gender references and a broader interpretation of (ii) to encompass non-academic pursuits, especially involving teamwork, these criteria still guide The Rhodes Selection Committee today. The aim of the Selection Committee is to choose applicants whom they consider likely to become outstandingly good citizens, with the desire to lead and serve, and with the energy to contribute to their communities and leave the world a better place.
The purpose of the Scholarships is to develop public-spirited leaders, and to promote international understanding and peace through an international community of Scholars. These objectives can be fulfilled through the selection of Scholars of any academic discipline. The Selection Committee is therefore agnostic about academic disciplines and simply selects outstanding young people who meet the Rhodes criteria, whatever their field of study. The qualities of intellect, character, leadership, and service which they seek can be equally well demonstrated by graduates in the Humanities, Sciences, Social Sciences or any other discipline.
The soft-spoken Dineo has had a very unassuming upbringing and educational path. She was born in Gaborone but her elementary education was attained from Phitshane Molopo Primary School, a village school in Phitshane Molopo – which is her maternal roots. She did her Junior Secondary School at Marulamantsi CJSS and completed her Form five at GSS in 2012 with 45 points. Her educational route demonstrates that with excellent parental support and proper focus, any learner who goes through a government school can make it to the finest universities in the world. My people have a proverb: Ntsanyana ya maitaa-sebata e bonwa mabotobotong which says that the earlier signs of greatness are seen in one’s early days of their upbringing. This is true for Dineo. Her love for the Sciences, poetry and her concern for the welfare of the weak and disadvantaged were all cultivated in her formative years. She grew up as a model student – something which earned her the Best Role model award while still at junior secondary school. At university she was the only female student in a class of thirty students. Dineo demonstrated leadership whilst at UB by being appointed a Student Representative in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in 2016. She sat in departmental board meetings and helped solve student problems. She also volunteered her time and skill as a student tutor with All Brilliant Minds Organization, an organisation which assisted students in poverty- stricken communities reach their full potential with their studies.
Dineo’s life has not been without challenges. She has suffered numerous illnesses whilst at university. However, instead of wallowing in self-pity and giving up on her studies, Dineo used her life challenges as sources of strength to do greater social good. She became an activist for mental health. She used poetry to express messages of hope, acceptance and change. She took her poetry so seriously that at one point she was a resident poet for Mmakgosi Live, a show which focuses on mental health awareness and wellness.
Dineo plans to do her graduate studies in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Oxford focusing on the design of medical devices. She wants to be part of a transformational team that designs and manufactures medical devices for mental health and other diseases, such as the 2014 Calming stone by Ramon Telfer and the design of devices in other fields of medicine such as prosthetics and orthotics. There is a need for the design and production of prosthetics in Botswana since most of the devices used in the country are imports. With an alarming rate of car accidents in Botswana and southern Africa in general, the design and manufacture of medical devices in Botswana has significant medical and economic value. Dineo therefore hopes that her studies in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Oxford will contribute towards the development of medical equipment in Botswana and Africa in general.