In celebration of Women’s Month, Stellenbosch University is shining a spotlight on the exceptional women of our institution. As we celebrate the remarkable achievements of female academics with this series of profiles, we also illuminate the transformative power of mentorship. Through their own experiences with mentors, these distinguished staff have not only excelled in their fields but also embraced the vital role of mentoring, guiding and inspiring younger colleagues and students towards success, fostering a more inclusive and empowered academic community.
When Samantha Diedericks reflects on a career in higher education spanning more than 30 years, she remembers her grandfather Vally’s words when she was a little girl: “Education is important because nobody can take it away from you.” Diedericks made this her motto and as the Principal Administrator at Stellenbosch Business School (SBS) she’s known as a dedicated mentor for students and staff.
Her career in higher education started 32 years ago when, after her matric exams, an elderly neighbour suggested she applies for work at the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) administration office to get access to academia. “I didn’t even know how to switch on a PC, but I hopped onto a bus and followed his instructions to the T,” Diedericks remembers. “My first application for the position of a filing clerk was unsuccessful, but soon after a position at the exams office opened.”
Although she’s been working at universities for most of her life, Diedericks never had the luxury to be a full-time student. While working as an administrative officer at UWC, she started to study at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and eventually graduated with a BTech in Human Resource Management.
She joined SBS as a programme coordinator in 2001 and gradually worked her way up to the position of Principal Administrative Officer responsible for organisational behaviour and responsible leadership. Along the way, she completed a part-time MPhil in Future Studies at SU and a postgraduate diploma in Leadership Development (cum laude), as well as numerous professional development courses.
Over the years, her involvement in the academic side of things at SBS became more pronounced and as Learning Process Facilitator (LPF) she’s currently responsible for integrating the learning process for the Postgraduate Diploma in Leadership Development students. “There’s probably a PhD in my future, which I never considered a possibility earlier in my life,” she says with an appreciative smile.
“It’s been a phenomenal journey. The best part of my early career at SBS was traveling with business students to countries such as China, Namibia, Botswana and Ghana as well as various European destinations. As South Africans, we sometimes think we’re inferior to international universities, but from what I’ve seen, we’re world-class.”
Having witnessed the transformation process at SU over the past two decades, Diedericks says the changing tide has opened doors for her and other female academics. “We can also see a shift in our classes. There are still more men, but women are catching up. We see the female total growing exponentially, also in our working environment.”
As Learning Process Facilitator, Diedericks enjoys the intense engagement with students from different backgrounds to ease the learning process, arming students with strategies to cultivate ideas and deepen comprehension.
Diedericks feels flattered that colleagues and students describe her an excellent mentor. “I think it’s because I treat all people as equals. That probably plays into how you create an environment where people feel safe to speak to you about what is happening in their lives. I’m somewhat of an introvert, so I wasn’t born with coaching and mentoring skills and it doesn’t come naturally to me. But when I started working with MBA students, things started to change. I think that’s where my coaching and mentoring skills grew.”
Throughout her career, Diedericks also had the privilege of excellent mentors. She mentions Frik Landman, Profs Marius Ungerer and Mias De Klerk as colleagues who facilitated a steep learning curve for her while giving her space to grow. Prof Anita Bosch, Dr Natasha Winkler-Titus and many of the administrative staff have also been instrumental in her academic and personal development, Diedericks says gratefully. “Such colleagues make work meaningful. It’s a pleasure to come to the office. I just love what I do.”
Diedericks also credits role models in her family for offering motivation. “Throughout my life, I was inspired by my grandparents. They were part of a generation that didn’t have access to education. My grandfather had to leave school after Grade 3, but he worked hard and ran his own electrical company. Granny Maggie used to say there is a light at the end of even the darkest tunnels. That is something I live by.”
Having a supportive environment at home played a big part in her career success, Diedericks notes. When their son Wesley was young, her husband Gavin’s working hours were flexible, and it was also a great help that her mother-in-law Yvonne lived with them and could help with childcare. Diedericks and her husband are also taking care of two foster children, 12-year-old Ezra and 19-year-old Brent who have been placed permanently with the family.
When she’s at home, Diedericks’ favourite place to be is the kitchen. “I’m an active baker, so my love language is cooking and baking. I like to feed the people around me.” This hobby has developed into a sideline of catering for events such as weddings, confirmation parties and even a few matric balls.
Diedericks’ passion to empower people has led to involvement in Partners in Agri Land Solutions (PALS), a private land reform and development initiative that aims to create an enabling environment to implement innovative land reform and inclusive agricultural growth that supports social harmony.
“Prof Arnold Smit and I are facilitating a responsible leadership module for PALS. It’s amazing to see how some of the women who’ve been marginalised are growing and how they’re starting to own their voices. They’re stepping up to the plate and some have become farmers in their own right, running their own businesses. It gives me so much pleasure to play a small part in such a worthwhile process.”
PHOTO: Stefan Els