School of Engineering


Top Engineering graduate, Mr Brent Yelland with his grandfather, Mr Graham Gibson, and mum, Ms Lynette Yellan.

Top Achiever Set on Further Study in Aerospace Systems Engineering

Summa cum laude Mechanical Engineering graduate Mr Brent Yelland has been awarded the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) Medal for being the top BSc Engineering student at UKZN.

‘It’s nice to get some recognition for my hard work,’ said Yelland. ‘However, I’m not motivated by awards but rather aim to understand the course material and always do my best.

‘If you have to force yourself to attend lectures or tutorials and are not interested in the topics you are studying, then you are pursuing the wrong degree!’

Yelland was first exposed to UKZN engineering as a matric pupil when he toured the Mechanical Engineering building and learned about UKZN’s aerospace programme from Professor Michael Brooks.

‘I was impressed with what I saw and thought that if all the lecturers were on par with Prof Brooks, then I would be getting a great education and would be happy to study here,’ he recalled.

The highlight of his four-year Engineering degree was completing his final year project and achieving second place in the high budget category. For this project he had to design and build a urine evaporator. ‘This didn’t directly relate to my specific interests in engineering, however it was a great exercise in engineering a project and people management,’ said Yelland. ‘I had to learn how to apply engineering theory, lead a team and achieve deadlines when procurement, outsourcing and manufacturing were involved.’

Less enjoyable was not being able to attend on-campus lectures during lockdown. ‘I definitely felt like I missed out on valuable and interesting opportunities in lectures and campus life in general,’ he said.

The top achiever is currently registered for an MSc in Mechanical Engineering at UKZN, working with the Aerospace Systems Research Institute (ASRI). ‘My focus is on analysing external air flow of the sounding rocket being developed by ASRI, using CFD (aerodynamic analysis),’ he explained. ‘I’m enjoying the masters so far and have no concrete plans once I complete it, besides staying in the field of aerodynamics, which I thoroughly enjoy.

‘Overall, I was pleased with the quality of UKZN’s Mechanical Engineering degree,’ he said. ‘The course content was up to scratch and I met many great professors and lecturers who were a positive influence on my studies. Working with them alongside a talented team of engineers at ASRI has been a great experience so far.’

Yelland paid tribute to his parents for their support as well as an academic leader for Mechanical Engineering, Professor Glen Sneddon, who is also his supervisor.

‘Mechanical Engineering and ASRI are delighted to have Brent join the postgraduate team at UKZN,’ said Sneddon. ‘He is easily the top student in his year, graduating summa cum laude and producing eye watering stats for achievement in his undergraduate degree: eight Dean’s Commendation awards, 26 certificates of merit (first in class), 36 distinctions (>80%), second in the high budget category for final year project, and ECSA UKZN medal recipient for top overall engineering student in 2023.

‘But that’s not all – Brent is a star cyclist winning multiple races with a forte for hill climbing. He truly embodies the ideal of mensa et corpore sane, namely, a healthy mind and a healthy body. We look forward to learning a great deal together as Brent develops his research.’

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Sethu Dlamini