on November 30th, 2023

Embarking on a journey of academic excellence is a pursuit fueled by personal goals and an unyielding passion for learning.  

Currently working and residing in Zambia, Southern Africa, is the recipient of the prestigious Academic Excellence Award, Hendrik van Heerden who shares insights into the motivations, challenges, and triumphs that shaped his educational odyssey.  

Beyond the accolades, van Heerden has completed a Master of Engineering (Mechanical) through the Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT), shedding light on the strategic approaches, influential mentors, and innovative projects that defined his academic tenure.  

Join us as we explore the inspiring narrative of an accomplished student who, alongside the rigors of a demanding profession, crafted a biomimetic anthropomorphic robotic hand and left an indelible mark on the landscape of mechanical engineering. 

Quest for Knowledge: Unveiling the Path to Academic Brilliance 

Hendrik van Heerden academic excellence award winner
Hendrik van Heerden

Congratulations on receiving the Academic Excellence Award! What motivated you to excel academically throughout your studies? 

Thank you very much for the congratulations, I really appreciate it. 

What inspired me to thrive academically were personal goals I established for myself as well as a passion for learning that I pursued. 

During my master’s degree, I noticed that it helps me to keep my skills fresh and expand them, preparing me to face not only the day-to-day problems in my industry but those that will surely arise in the future. 

In other words, a master’s degree in engineering will make me an asset to any team, especially amid the growing competition in the field. 

What program did you study with EIT?  

In 2021, I began my master’s degree in mechanical engineering. This was a two-year full-time study through EIT, Perth, Australia, that I finished on 21 September 2023. 

Can you share some of the key strategies or habits that you believe contributed to your academic success? 

Setting realistic short- and long-term goals is crucial for academic success. By including skills like time management, study habits, and resilience, individuals can create a solid study plan, track progress, and ultimately achieve their objectives. 

Were there any specific teachers or mentors who played a significant role in your academic journey? If so, how did they inspire and support you? 

Dr. Vinnu Madhav, Dr. Milind Siddhpura, and Dr. Arti Siddhpura have played integral roles in my academic journey. Dr. Vinnu Madhav served as my esteemed supervisor during my pursuit of a master’s degree, providing invaluable support and guidance throughout the development of a biomimetic anthropomorphic robotic hand for my thesis in the field of mechanical engineering.  

Furthermore, Dr. Madhav, Dr. M. Siddhpura, and Dr. A. Siddhpura have actively encouraged me to collaborate on a scholarly article centered around my BSc degree thesis project.  

This particular endeavor marked my initiation into the realm of robotics, involving the construction of a 3D-printed robotic hand controlled by a glove. Through collective efforts, we have successfully completed this article and subsequently delivered a live online presentation at the esteemed IEEE R10 HTC 2023 Conference, held at Marwadi University in Rajkot, India on October 16, 2023. 

What challenges did you face during your academic journey, and how did you overcome them? 

My main obstacles were my work environment and the industry in which I work. I work in the mining industry, and the mobile equipment that I am responsible for is classified as production-related equipment.  

So, yeah, they need to be fixed when they breakdown and sometimes it happens when it is knocking off time, which means you must work longer hours to ensure they are back in service as soon as possible, which generally interfered with my study time. The only way I could overcome my difficulties was to study longer hours in the evenings and then take additional leave days simply to finish my assignments on time and submit them before their due dates. 

What was the most memorable academic project or research you worked on during your time in school? 

My master’s degree Thesis Project – I have 3D Printed a biomimetic anthropomorphic robotic hand with artificial limbs and muscles controlled by an exoskeleton glove.  This was the most memorable academic project I have done. I even received the 2023 Academic Excellence Award for the same prototype project I worked on. 

Read more here: https://www.eit.edu.au/eit-student-designs-3d-printed-prosthetic-controlled-by-an-electronic-glove/  

In what ways do you feel your academic achievements will impact your future career or personal goals? 

Academic achievements may have a substantial influence on later life since they frequently open doors to higher education and jobs. A person with a degree, for example, may have greater career chances and earn higher pay than someone without a degree. Furthermore, the skills and information obtained via academic study may be useful in many areas of life, including critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication. It is crucial to highlight, however, that academic accomplishment is not the only element that predicts life success, and that other attributes such as work ethic, drive, and emotional intelligence can also play a role.

However, it is important to maintain a balance between academic achievements and other aspects of life, such as personal experiences, relationships, and diverse interests. 

How do you balance academics with other aspects of your life, such as extracurricular activities and social commitments? 

I work 10 and a half to 11 hours every day, Monday through Friday. During the week, I would work on my assignments for around 4 hours each day, and on weekends, I would work on them for 8 hours per day on Saturday and Sunday in order to finish them on time. 

When you commit to a higher degree, regardless of the type of degree you are pursuing, you do not have a personal life. You must set short- and long-term goals for yourself to correctly arrange the due dates for each course. If you don’t do it this way, you’ll fall behind and won’t be able to finish your courses on time, which means you won’t be able to get your degree. As an individual, you must commit to this path.  Remember that you’re doing this for yourself, not for your friends. 

Can you describe any particular academic experiences or courses that you found particularly challenging, and how did you manage to excel in them? 

The unit called Finite Element Method, in which I had to use a program called Ansys Workbench. 

Despite the program’s robust functionality, its immediate user-friendliness is not so easy. Through perseverance, I diligently familiarized myself with the software’s intricacies. The moment I attained mastery over its functionalities and proper utilization, its usability significantly improved. Subsequently, I thoroughly enjoyed utilizing the software. 

What advice do you have for current and future students who aspire to achieve academic excellence? 

Set Clear Goals: Define your academic goals and create a plan to achieve them. Having a clear vision will help you stay focused and motivated throughout your academic journey. 

Develop Effective Study Habits: Establish a structured study routine and stick to it. Break down your coursework into manageable chunks, use effective study techniques like active learning, and find a study environment that suits your preferences. 

Stay Organized: Keep track of assignments, deadlines, and important dates using calendars, planners, or digital tools. Prioritize tasks and create a study schedule to manage your time effectively. 

Stay Motivated and Persistent: Academic excellence requires consistent effort and perseverance. Celebrate your achievements along the way and remind yourself of the long-term benefits of your hard work. 

Remember, academic excellence is not solely defined by grades. Academic excellence is the demonstrated ability to perform, achieve, and/or excel in scholastic activities. 

Looking back on your academic journey, what moments or achievements are you most proud of, aside from receiving the Academic Excellence Award? 

Upon reflecting upon my academic journey, the achievement I hold in utmost pride, apart from the reception of the prestigious Academic Excellence Award, entails the creation of a biomimetic anthropomorphic robotic hand for my master’s thesis in mechanical engineering. This remarkable feat encompasses the incorporation of artificial limbs and muscles, which are expertly controlled through the utilization of an exoskeleton glove. 

To bring this intricate design to life, I employed 3D printing technology to fabricate the intricate bone structures of the human hand and forearm. In order to replicate the unique biomechanics of the human hand’s functionality, I meticulously devised artificial ligaments to serve as connectors between the bones within the hand, as well as between the hand and forearm. 

For the effective operation of each finger, I affixed an artificial muscle to every individual finger via a thin tendon. Through the contraction of these muscles, the corresponding finger is then prompted into a flexion position. To ensure a seamless mechanization process of the hand, I endeavored to maintain a high degree of realism in terms of the functioning of the fingers and muscles. 

Overall, this project represents a significant milestone in my scholarly journey, serving as a testament to my dedication and aptitude in the field of mechanical engineering. 

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