GETTING TO KNOW…. PROF LIEZEL CILLIERS Acting Dean – Faculty of Management and Commerce

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In her 10th year at the University of Fort Hare, Prof Liezel Cilliers has been entrusted with a new role of Acting Dean of the  Management and  Commerce faculty – a position left vacant after the departure of Dr Ntombovuyo Wayi on 30 June.

Prof Celliers has had quite an illustrious career since joining the institution a decade ago as a Lecturer in the Department of Information Systems. After obtaining a  PhD in Information Systems (UFH) in 2014, she was promoted to Senior Lecturer.

From 2017 to 2018 she held the position of Head of the Information Systems department, in 2019 she was promoted to Associate Professor. Last year, she was appointed to the role of  Deputy Dean for Research and Internationalization in the Faculty of Management and Commerce and was permanently appointed to this position.  She has been serving as the Acting Faculty Dean since 1 July 2021 -this is in addition to her substantive role which includes lecturing and supervising students.

Speaking to ThisWeek@FortHare, Prof Cilliers shared her plans for her new role. She also gave a glimpse into her personal life and being a mother to her adorable son, Quinn.

Please share a bit about your professional and personal background?

Professional background

Prior to joining the university, I was the Head of Department: Physiotherapy at both Frere and Cecilia Makiwane Hospitals. I qualified as a physiotherapist from the University of Stellenbosch in 2002. Thereafter, I continued my studies and obtained the following degrees:

  1. Masters in Public Health, (2006), University of the Western Cape
  2. BCom Honours (Information Systems), (2010), University of Fort Hare
  3. MCom (Information Systems), (2011), University of Fort Hare
  4. DPhil (Information Systems), (2014), University of Fort Hare
  5. Post Graduate Diploma in Higher Education – Cum Laude, (2016), University of Fort Hare
  6. Masters in Education (2019), University of Fort Hare

I have taught at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels during my 10 years at the university. Currently, I am responsible for two courses at undergraduate level and one at honours level. I  have supervised at honours, masters and doctoral levels in the Department of Information Systems. To date, I have graduated 23 honours students, 12 masters and two doctoral students.

I have also hosted a postdoctoral fellow, Dr S Takavarasha Jnr, in the Department of Information Systems in 2017. I review for several international and national journals as well as conferences. I have also had the privilege to examine extensively for various universities in South Africa.

Research Interest

My research interest includes mobile health with specific reference to electronic and mobile health records. In the past three years, I have also started to investigate how social media can be used to search for health-related information and if South African users have the e-health literacy to understand such information.

My study interests were further refined during the COVID-19 pandemic where ‘infodemics’ became relevant as the volume of health information that is published on social media can overwhelm the user and make it extremely difficult to distinguish between fake and real news. I have a particular interest in how Twitter is used to disseminate health information during health pandemics and this will be my research focus going forward into my professorship.

I have published at a steady pace over the past nine years as my CV and Google H-index of 12 testifies. To date, I have published six book chapters, 35 journal articles and 61 conference papers with colleagues and postgraduate students. During 2020 I served as a Guest Editor of a special issue titled ‘Mobile technology within the 4IR era – Africa answering the call, ’ with Prof Willie Chinyamurindi  (Head of UFH Business Management Department) in the Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa. 

Research Funding

As far as funding is concerned, I have successfully applied for three research grants to support my research activities:

  • Firstly, a R3 million research grant (which started in 2017) from the South African Medical Research Council in conjunction with an international research partner at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. The study focused on how to best implement electronic health records in South Africa. During this time, I supervised five Masters students to completion while a further two PhD students are expected to complete at the end of the 2022 academic year. From this study I published 15 papers at conferences and five articles in Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) accredited journals. 
  • The second grant was a three-year National Research Funding (NRF) Research grant to study how to encourage individuals to make use of health applications and wearable devices to monitor their health care. During this project, I supervised three masters students to completion. 
  • The final grant is a R3 million research grant from DHET to study social media student sentiment among TVET students.  I am the co-principal investigator on this project with Prof K Viljoen from the Department of Business Management. The project is expected to finish in December 2021 and two masters students will graduate from this project.

Personal Life, Hobbies and Other Interest

I am a mother to a three-year-old boy, Quinn Cilliers.  For the past 10 years, I have been a member of Rotary International. I also volunteer my time at a local rugby club as a physiotherapist, when time allows.

I enjoy travelling -  at the moment that is mostly in the Eastern Cape and  our beautiful country -  as we wait for the borders to open again to allow for international travel.

What are the key focus areas of your new portfolio? 

  • Leadership regarding the Faculty’s teaching and research activities and rendering of professional service to the community.
  • Promotion of co-operation between staff inside and outside the faculty, as well as between staff and students.
  • Meaningful compilation, coordination and integration of faculty regulations, courses and the application thereof.
  • Financial Management.
  • Handling and attendance of meetings.

 

What is your approach to executing your key responsibilities in your new role?

I believe that one must approach positions of leadership with integrity, empathy and honesty. I always endeavour to actively listen to the point of view of other people and have an open-door policy for students and staff to approach me with their problems, as it is important for them to know that there is someone that will listen and assist.

Do not be afraid to say ‘I don’t know, but will find out’, and then follow through on those actions.

So far, as the Acting Dean which areas have you identified as pockets of excellence and which ones require strengthening in your Faculty?

Pockets of Excellence

  • There is a culture of research in our faculty with several senior academics that are working on various projects. These include community engagement elements, which means that we can serve the community as well.
  • New and current curriculums in various programmes offered in the faculty

Challenges

  • Mentorship of junior staff.
  • Lack of teaching venues and office space for our staff.
  • Manual processes in the university that frustrate staff and cause duplicate work.

 

Lastly, what are your aspirations for the university as it sets off on its journey of a decade of renewal (2020 to 2030)?  What is your advice on how to reach the envisaged destination?  

My aspiration is for the university to be part of the journey of the departments in the faculty of Management and Commerce as they re-invent themselves during this period to become more efficient and effective at what they offer students.

My vision is also to attract excellent researchers and scholars to partner with the faculty as we offer unique insights and contributions to the community of the Eastern Cape and beyond,  including the continent.