“I am standing before you because at some point someone gave me a chance. I ought to do the same.” — Dr Mokoka

Shaun Gavin Smith



Organisation / Company

University of Johannesburg


Final-year civil engineering student at the University of Johannesburg Shaun Gavin Smith, 26, oversees and participates in creative projects that combine academic rigour with practical applications. His thesis focuses on carbon sequestration in concrete. He sees the future of civil engineering as being entrenched in sustainability and technological innovation. Eco-friendly construction approaches, such as carbon sequestration in concrete and the use of recycled materials, can lower the environmental effect of construction projects.

Shaun recently oversaw the design of a road project and carried out research on travel behaviour. He is committed to peer mentorship, tutoring, community service and a future where education and technology uplift his home community. The establishment of a chess club is one of his main accomplishments. It taught him invaluable lessons: “First, it emphasised the value of initiative and persistence in realising a dream. I became aware of the value of leadership and mentoring,” he says. What excites Shaun most in his field is the opportunity for civil engineers to contribute to projects that not only address technical issues but also improve the quality of life of communities.


Matric, Sunnydale Secondary School
BSc Chemical Engineering (did not complete it), University of KwaZulu-Natal
BEng Civil Engineering (currently studying), University of Johannesburg


The establishment and growth of a chess club during my high school years is one of my proudest accomplishments. I founded the club after successfully pleading with my school for resources, with the goal of encouraging students’ strategic thinking and critical thinking. Over time, the club grew into a strong inter-school chess network. The first steps in this endeavour were starting the club at Sunnydale Secondary School, setting up practice times and giving one-on-one student coaching. Acknowledging the possibility of a wider influence, I made contact with neighbouring schools, collaborated with educators and organised inter-school competitions, fostering a lively community of youthful chess enthusiasts.

Through this event, I learned numerous invaluable lessons. First, it emphasised the value of initiative and persistence in realising a dream. I became aware of the value of leadership and mentoring as mentoring my peers and younger ones required tolerance, understanding and clear communication. Furthermore, I learned the significance of resilience and adaptation from the difficulties I encountered in planning events and securing participation. This project strengthened my leadership and organisational abilities as well as my conviction in the transformational potential of community service and education. It still forms the basis of my dedication to encouraging learning and successful teamwork.


Yes. One such mentor is a maths teacher at a nearby high school who encouraged my volunteer tutoring activities. Their support and conviction in my abilities fuelled my enthusiasm for school and community service. They taught me about patience, dedication and the transformational power of mentorship. Finally, the professionals I met during my internships and mentorship programmes, especially at PetroSA and CEF, have been really helpful. Their advice and real-world experiences helped me gain a better knowledge of the industry and corporate world, as a whole.