MEET: Jacqui Pietersen, Senior Alumni Officer: Department of University Relations

Posted on November 08, 2019

Who is Jacqui Pietersen?

I am the warm kiss of the sun after a cold winter’s night. Jacqui Pietersen is a benevolent and spiritual introvert who comes across as an extrovert. I grew up in Cape Town and moved to Pretoria more than 16 years ago, hence I call myself a Capetorian. I’ve been working in higher education for as long as I can remember. I started my professional career in public relations. I have an inquisitive mind and would always get involved in projects in order to enhance my learning. I also had a mentor who taught me everything I know about the public relations environment. When I moved to Pretoria, I worked as a Public Relations and Publications Officer. Two years later, I was promoted and managed the branding and advertising portfolio. All of this was at institutions of higher learning. In 2008 I was appointed as the Senior Alumni Officer at the University of Pretoria. My educational background is in public relations and business studies, among others. I also have an MBA degree. Earlier this year, I finished the Programme for Management Development that is offered by GIBS. This programme was extremely intense yet highly rewarding as it enabled me to unlock my creative potential and think strategically – as well as have a more holistic approach – in order to contribute to the overall strategy of the University.

Tell us about your position / job here at UP?

In my position as Senior Alumni Officer, I focus a lot on building positive relationships with all University stakeholders. It is also important for us to strengthen our relationship with our alumni in terms of brand building and easing them into the cultivation or fostering process by keeping them involved with the University as proud UP ambassadors. I organise local and international alumni events to further promote the University and connect with alumni. This year was extremely satisfying as the Alumni Team, together with other units within DUR, were able to launch a virtual networking platform called UP Alumni Connect, which is now one of the fastest growing Graduway alumni platforms in 2019. This platform/app has played quite a significant role in enabling us to reconnect with our alumni and offering them tangible benefits absolutely free of charge. Another part of my duties is to promote alumni awareness among students, in order for them to understand the role of alumni and what it all entails once they graduate. I am also involved in the University’s graduation ceremonies where I congratulate new graduates and promote Alumni Relations.

What do you enjoy most about your job and why?

I enjoy everything that I do. I guess when you are passionate about your work you can even appreciate the frustrating moments that sometimes come with the job. My job allows me to connect with diverse groups of people, which is awesome as I learn continuously. Also, my work is extremely intense and fast-paced so there is no time to ponder on any negatives. I love engaging with students as they open up a whole new world with the way they think. My heart wants to constantly burst with pride every time I see the students that I worked with, or supported on their journey, graduate. What is most rewarding for me is to be involved in philanthropic initiatives at the University. I established the Young Alumni and Students’ Committee (YASCOM) in 2013, together with the then SRC. YASCOM focused on student philanthropy and we were highly successful in reaching our objectives. It was also the beginning of me being termed “Mama J” by both staff and students. Unfortunately, YASCOM couldn’t continue due to capacity challenges within the Alumni Office. However, this has not stopped me from assisting students who need food, toiletries and stationery support. After all, in everything we do we Make Today Matter and embrace THE UP WAY.

What is your least favourite part about your job?

The admin work! We are a small team and if it was not for the diamond in our office, called Marilise du Plessis, I think I would have lost my marbles already.

What would be your top suggestion for making UP an even better place to work?

UP has provided me with many opportunities for growth for which I am extremely grateful. John Maxwell quotes that “Success is when you add value to yourself. Significance is when you add value to others”. So I have two suggestions, one in relation to staff and the other one relating to students. With regards to staff, even though employees are not entitled to career advancement at the University, it would be wonderful if the institution would afford career advancement (without prejudice) to worthy employees within their own environment. I’d say better the (loyal) devil you know. Just think about it, in our gardens we tend to remove the dead wood and nurture the plants that make our environment look splendid. And the University of Pretoria is one magnificent garden.

In terms of students, UP should strive towards a future where no student at our University has to go to bed hungry or write exams on an empty stomach or get scorned due to unpleasant odours. Other students just want someone to talk to without being judged or belittled. It is quite painful to have conversations with students and hear the desperation in their voices or see it in their eyes. It is challenging to convince them to not resort to desperate measures when they feel that those measures are the only option they have to survive. The UP community should all join hands to assist and support students who are struggling. A little goes a long way and can make a huge difference in the life of a student. It is so rewarding when you lend a helping hand. If you cannot give financially, give some of your time or have empathy. Trust is built when people feel accepted and validated. I believe that when the environment is happy, everyone thrives. At the end of it all, we are on this earth to serve humanity.

If you were not in your current position, what else would you have liked to be?

I would have liked to be a Professional Hug Therapist. I don’t know if such a career even exists. I think there is nothing better than receiving a hug when you feel lonely, isolated or despair. Hugs strengthen the immune system and boost oxytocin levels instantly. I have seen amazing transformation in people after they received a simple hug from someone who is sincere, as it builds trust and gives the recipient a sense of safety. On the other hand, I would have loved to work for the World Food Programme which addresses hunger and food security.

Tell us about who Jacqui is away from work?

I am a mother who takes care of her children single-handedly. It is not always easy but extremely fulfilling. I am also involved in voluntary work. When I do get time for myself, I take long drives on my own, without any particular destination in mind, while listening to old school music and singing my heart out. I don’t watch television. I enjoy being in nature, meditating, reading and socialising with close friends. Oooh, and I love dancing (even in the rain when no one is watching)!

What are your goals for the next five years?

I want to continue developing my skills, increasing my intellectual capacity and making a difference in the lives of people. Part of this includes travelling more in order to explore and learn new and different cultures.

Is there a favourite piece of advice you have received in life that you would like to share with our colleagues?

Life is a reflection. How you treat others says a lot about you. So be kind to others and gentle with yourself.

- Author Jacqui Pietersen

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