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How a staff bursary liberated potential

- Wits University

Campus Housing and Residence Life staff member funded by the Wits staff bursary earns master’s degree, which has enabled new career prospects.

Thareshma Maharaj is among the latest cohort of Wits students who graduated on 20 July 2021 during a virtual graduation ceremony.

Maharaj is an Accommodation Officer in the University’s Campus Housing and Residence Life, which oversees all aspects of the University's residence programme, including accommodation and meals, recreational facilities, and programmes for the holistic development of students in residences.

Investment in the development of employees yields many benefits for organisations, including universities. When employees acquire new skills and knowledge through staff development programmes, benefits and initiatives, they enhance their productivity and the efficiency of their departments.

Thareshma Maharaj

Academic upskilling for personal development

For Maharaj, who seized the opportunity to advance her career, studying further meant she could apply best practices in marketing for her department when engaging with students. She says encouragement from family and friends prompted her to study towards a Masters of Commerce degree in marketing after successfully obtaining a Bachelor of Commerce honours degree from Wits.

“When I realised that I can make use of my staff benefits to study further, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. I was happy to learn that I could do a marketing qualification even though I was not specialising in marketing at Wits.”

Maharaj’s academic interests have always been in commerce and marketing, having obtained her commerce undergraduate degree in marketing from the University of South Africa.

Passionate about service excellence and enhancing the student experience, she serves students and assists with first residence applications and appeals, amongst others, in her role as Accommodation Officer – a position she has held since 2012.

Maharaj says her postgraduate qualification has enabled opportunities for her to now acquire experience in marketing. Since end of June 2021, she has been in charge of marketing and communications for Campus Housing and Residence Life.

“I am so excited to be seconded into this position as it will unveil my creativity and allow me to put my knowledge to the test and do work I enjoy,” she says.

Mid-pandemic misery and motivation

Regarding juggling work and studies during the pandemic, she admits that 2020 “was a challenging year.” However, her resilience and drive for success silenced the voice of despair that came over her.

“I broke my wrist prior to the lockdown in 2020 and could not work for three months so this delayed me. After this misfortune and with the pandemic, I asked myself if I needed this degree because people are dying every day from Covid-19. The lockdown affected me emotionally. I did lose that spirit of completing my studies.”

Her master’s dissertation, titled, Factors influencing viewer's intention to adopt on-demand TV: a study in Johannesburg, South Africa required self-motivation and high levels of discipline. For her master’s, she did not do coursework and was the only Masters of Commerce graduate in this cluster who obtained her qualification through research only.

Maharaj expresses gratitude to her supervisor, Professor Norman Chiliya who motivated her when she felt hopeless.

“I had a great a supervisor who always motivated me. He moved to another university last year but he still remained my supervisor and continued to offer academic guidance,” says Maharaj.

Paying it forward

As a recipient of a Wits staff bursary, which enabled her to study further, and a beneficiary of the generosity of those who helped her, Maharaj also wants to contribute to the academic success of students at Wits. She has reached out to the School of Business Sciences in the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management to offer her assistance to students.

The commitment from her supervisor and support from other academics reminded her of the importance of humanity in times of great uncertainty.

“I am inspired to make a difference in whichever way I can. Another lecturer – who is also no longer at Wits – assisted me with my masters at no cost. I feel I also need to pay it forward and assist students who are struggling with certain modules,” she says.

Maharaj is excited about the future and her career growth. She encourages staff members who wish to study to “go for it!”

“It is very rare that people get this opportunity. Having this benefit is amazing,” she says.