Married Steyns receive doctorates

Vernon and Leigh Steyn at their engagement.

A couple with a love for insects has been inseparable since their second year of study at Stellenbosch University.

They received their doctoral degrees together during the Faculty of AgriSciences’ graduation ceremony on Tuesday April 2. To top it all, Vernon and Leigh Steyn both studied different methods of controlling pesky moth pests. Vernon did research on the false codling moth, while Leigh focused on the Cape grapevine leafminer.

Their love story dates back to the winter of 2011, when both were in their second year of BSc studies in the Faculty of AgriSciences. Vernon had missed a few classes, and was desperate to find out what he needed to study for a scheduled test.

Vernon explains how they met: ”After class a girl I did not know, spontaneously and kindly started helping me and provided the information that I needed. And that was it.” 

Within weeks they started dating. The pair have since completed their studies side by side and married in May 2017.

Vernon acknowledges that it is thanks to Leigh that he developed an interest in insects: “She has the wonderful ability to notice the smallest insect in the veld or even when we are just walking in town.”

An eureka moment in their academic careers came when they attended classes together, in their fourth year, on insect behaviour and development, presented by entomologist Professor Henk Geertsema.

“We hung on every word he said, and for the first time truly realised just how interesting and important the world of insects was,” Leigh says.

After receiving their undergraduate degrees, both embarked on their MSc studies on particular agricultural pests. Vernon studied the Mediterranean fruitfly, while Leigh focused on the Cape grapevine leafminer.

At 28 and 27 respectively, Vernon and Leigh are the first of their initial first-year class to complete their doctoral studies. Both are star students who received numerous awards for their academic achievements during the course of their studies. Last year Leigh presented one of the five best student posters at the European Congress of Entomology in Italy.

In 2009 Leigh matriculated at Rhenish Girls’ High School in Stellenbosch. Together with her parents she has for many years been a member of Friends of Stellenbosch Mountain, a group dedicated to eradicating alien plants on Stellenbosch Mountain.

Vernon has subsequently also become part of the group, and has been chairman since 2018. He matriculated in 2008 at Vereeniging High. Earlier this year, he started working for the Cape branch of Insect Science in Tzaneen. As a senior field scientist he focuses on developing environmentally friendly methods, such as mating disruption, to control various agricultural pests.