Remarkable engineering student pursues her dreams despite life-altering incident

Remarkable engineering student pursues her dreams despite life-altering incident

Jay-Dee Meyer, an Electrical and Electronic Engineering  student from Stellenbosch University (SU), will graduate in March despite a life-altering accident just before her final year.

Hailing from Johannesburg, she and her family moved to the Western Cape when she was six. She began her high school education at a boarding school in Stellenbosch, where she fell in love with the picturesque town, knowing it was where she wanted to study one day. Pursuing a BEng degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at SU was an obvious choice, as she has a passion for electricity (“electricity must be the coolest invention ever!”) and problem-solving (“to be able to make a difference in the world”).

But her life took an unexpected turn at the end of 2022 as she suffered a devastating four-meter fall from a tree and landed on concrete. “I dislocated and fractured my spine, leaving me paralysed from the hips down for life.”

Two months of rehabilitation and readjustment to her new life followed, and undeterred by this horrific accident, she decided to go back to complete her final year.

Jay-Dee says the challenges she had to face were more emotional than physical. “The university is already quite accessible and Professor Wikus van Niekerk, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, made sure that I had everything I needed.”

Upon returning, she remembered feeling self-conscious as everyone looked at her. “But after a few days, I realised something amazing. People weren’t staring at me out of pity; they were staring at me out of admiration. Despite my whole life being turned upside down, here I was, still showing up and smiling and happy to still be at university, which is a privilege.”

However, remaining motivated amidst adversity was not without its struggles. “There were days I couldn’t open a book because I felt overwhelmed by life. On those days, I wasn’t too hard on myself. Always remember that slow progress is better than no progress.”

When she really needed motivation, Jay-Dee visualised herself rolling on the stage at graduation, reminding her of the greater purpose of becoming an engineer to get her through the more challenging days. “The trick with a tough day is to never allow it to become two days. Finding the balance between discipline and grace during adversity, like this can be tough, but it’s an important skill,” she says.

For her final-year project, Jay-Dee undertook a project close to her heart: designing a battery management system for a Wind Energy Conversion System (WECS) used by the South African Antarctic Research Base (SANAE IV). “I loved this project because I already knew then that my passion was renewable energy. And, as anyone who has studied engineering knows, the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”

She says the research “was quite a journey”. “It was incredibly challenging and sometimes frustrating, but in the end, I was incredibly grateful for how much I was able to learn and had a new appreciation for just how complex renewable energy is,” she says.

Reflecting on her journey over the past months, she offers valuable advice to others facing adversity: “Happiness in life isn’t the absence of problems; it’s the ability to overcome them.”

She adds: “Every single challenge in life can either be viewed as an obstacle standing in your way or as an opportunity to prove yourself and learn something valuable. It’s all about your mindset.”

Now, as she embarks on a new chapter as a Control Engineer at Sasol in Sasolburg, Free State, her aspirations remain rooted in her commitment to renewable energy projects. “My dream is to work on renewable energy and microgrid projects in South Africa, which will hopefully positively impact our country’s energy issues and lessen the country’s carbon footprint. This will be a step in the right direction towards a more sustainable future for South Africa.”

Besides her career endeavours, Jay-Dee hopes to establish an NGO one day that provides second-hand wheelchairs to those in need, emphasising her commitment to making a difference in the lives of others.

Photograph: Jay-Dee Meyer, soon-to-be BEng graduate in Electrical Engineering, finds inspiration and joy in the serenity of the outdoors.

[Article by Amber Viviers]