Matie Voices

Ricardo Smart

Alumnus of the Faculty of Science

“Being in service is very much like planting a seed. Don’t expect a tree tomorrow. Take care of it regularly and before you know it, it could grow into a tree.”

In his matric year, a volunteer teacher walked the extra mile to inspire and assist Ricardo Smart to become the first member of his family to enter university. These days he is a PhD student in wine biotechnology at Stellenbosch University (SU), but the teacher’s example still inspires him to a life in service of others.

His endeavours have culminated in the International Leadership Council Award from the Golden Key International Honour Society. The awards are bestowed on student leaders across the globe who excel as leaders, in academics or in doing community work. Ricardo was recognised for community leadership.

Ricardo has since 2011 been an active member of the Stellenbosch chapter of the Golden Key Society, especially in organising its service component. He is especially proud of his endeavours since 2015 to organise Golden Key members’ continued involvement as tutors to primary school learners attending a local aftercare programme in Stellenbosch: “It’s been amazing to see how the children’s confidence in their abilities have grown, thanks to the help and the encouragement that the students give them with their schoolwork.”

Ricardo, who was head boy of Blackheath High in his matric year in 2009, says it is the example of maths teacher Charlton Hendricks that inspired his own life of service.

“For the first six months of matric we did not have a maths teacher. Mr Hendricks stepped in as volunteer, and even tutored us on Saturdays to help us catch up. In the end I passed matric maths, with a mark very close to distinction,” he remembers.

What still stands out for him is the extra mile that Hendricks took to fill in the necessary application forms for him.

“If he did not help me with the forms and partly pay for the application fee, I would not have been where I am today,” Ricardo says.

The influence of Mr Hendricks’ volunteer work came to mind when in his third year as a BSc student Ricardo’s friend, Keenan Herbert, suggested that they tutor maths and accountancy to learners in and around Blackheath. That’s what they did most Saturdays in 2014 and 2015 at the Evergreen Resource Centre. Over the two years they saw many teenagers grow in confidence, and reach their career dreams.

“Being in service is very much like planting a seed. Don’t expect a tree tomorrow. Take care of it regularly and before you know it, it could grow into a tree,” Ricardo believes.

Over the years, he has received awards for community service from SU, and a Super Mentor Award from Media24’s Rachel’s Angels Project. And in 2018, GoodHope FM recognised him as an inspirational leader.

“To be of service comes naturally to me, and often happens in the heat of the moment. By now it’s a way of life for me,” he notes. “To help someone is such a pleasant feeling.”

At heart, Ricardo is also a microbiologist, and already has an BSc honours degree in medical microbiology and an MSc in microbiology behind his name. He has his sights set on completing his doctorate through the Institute for Wine Biotechnology, part of the Department of Viticulture and Oenology at SU. Then he hopes to secure a postdoctoral fellowship at an overseas institution specialising in functional metagenomics, and to later return to South Africa to take up a teaching or research position in academia. For his PhD, he is researching the way in which vineyard cover cropping faba beans and triticale influence the soil, leaves and grape microbiota, and ultimately impact on the finished wines.

“I want to be an influencer who inspires others to help others, and to help them do so,” he dreams.

- By Engela Duvenage -