Anybody who has ever visited Stellenbosch University’s Department of Journalism will know Elizabeth Newman is the heart and soul of the office. Nicknamed “Mother Superior” by her colleagues, Newman has been the administrative officer of the Department for the past 14 years. As we kicked off May commemorating Workers’ Day, we dedicate this series of articles to our staff and their important contribution to Stellenbosch University (SU). In the interview below Newman tells us more about her work.
Can you explain your role at SU?
I am the administrative officer of the Department of Journalism, a postgraduate department at SU. I’m not only responsible for student and staff administration, but I also handle the finances of the Department. I see to it that all the students are correctly registered and perform tasks such as uploading of marks, bursary payments, card access to the building and general student admin throughout the year. Our programmes are taught by specialists in the field of journalism, and I arrange their flights and ensure that they have accommodation for the duration of their time at the Department. My job is challenging, but I try to always give my best to everybody whether it is a student or a staff member or even someone just enquiring about our programmes and/or the Department.
What does a typical day at work look like?
Not one day is the same. I normally have a to-do list from the day before, but even before my day starts I will have other requests requiring my urgent attention. These can range from a paper jam in the printer that neither a lecturer nor a student can fix, or requests for signing out of equipment.
The communication back and forth about flights, travel dates, accommodation requests and shuttle bookings for visiting lecturers takes up a lot of my time. Since February this year, the South African Research Chair in Science Communication also joined our Department and I am responsible for assisting with the financial aspects of this division as well. I must see to it that bookings and payments for research colloquiums, catering services and other finances are taken care of timeously. Requests for purchase orders and payment of invoices are handled daily. My assistant sees to it that I get a coffee fix every now and then to keep me going throughout the day.
How did your education or past experiences prepare you for this role?
I was an educator before I joined SU. I guess working with kids aged 7-13 taught me to have patience and compassion. Many a day students will come to my office to share something in confidence, have a good cry or just to chat informally. Because of this motherly role, I was nicknamed “Mother Superior” by Prof Lizette Rabe, former Head of the Department. Working as part of a team has its challenges, but it’s very fulfilling. It is a small department, but we support each other and I feel valued as a person.
What do you enjoy most about your role and working at SU?
Being in service with and for the students gives me great joy. Every year I get to meet new students enrolling for the BA Hons as well as the master’s programmes. The honours students are at the Department full-time and interacting with them, experiencing the highs and lows of the programme with them, and seeing them struggle but also achieving their goals, makes my work worthwhile.
I also love meeting fellow staff personally when I take a stroll on campus, putting a face to an email and getting to know the person behind the email. Personal contact is important in my line of work, as I never know when I will need someone’s assistance or vice versa.
Tell us something exciting or interesting about yourself that few people would expect?
I am a proud grandmother of two: a 10-year-old girl and a 7-week-old baby boy. I share the love of road trips with my husband, whether it is on a motorbike along the Garden Route or with our TT (Toyota Tazz), exploring our country and neighbouring countries like Namibia. We prefer driving to flying. For example, in 2015 we travelled from Stellenbosch to Lesotho, Swaziland and along the coast of KwaZulu-Natal to Durban and back. The travel bug has bitten me, and I wish I had more time and money to travel.
Photo: Stefan Els