31 March 2021

Dr Von Solms says the aim of the research is to train small to medium enterprises to use social media and create an Internet presence for their businesses, by using a mobile application.

"I love the influence technology has on our lives. Some of my research has even considered how technology can promote engagement with nature. Lastly, I love my teaching and I am passionate about lecturing. Not just about lecturing, but about being creative in the way I convey theory to my students and make them think critically and creatively, collaborate, and discuss the theory," she adds. 

"During my Masters of Commerce I conducted research on Geocaching and whether it could be seen as a way to promote exercise. It was then that I first recognised the link between health, technology, and tourism. I presented the research at a conference in Bali. The research pertained to how Discovery Health’s model, which rewards clients for healthy behaviours, might be linked to activity-based tourism that could assist clients in achieving health goals. I also researched how Geocaching and other technologies can be incorporated into the business model of National Parks to enhance customer experience." 

When she was doing her Masters in Business Administration, Dr Von Solms undertook research on the impact of education on students’ levels of creativity and ability to communicate, collaborate, and think creatively.

"We measured MBA students’ creativity levels and tried to determine whether the MBA programme helped to increase the creativity levels of students. I loved this research especially as I strive to make my own lecturing style creative, innovative, and original. I realised over the seven years I have lectured that there is much to be gained by incorporating unusual ways of teaching. I started reading up on the role of technology in education and the computer programs/cell phone applications out there and what researchers thought education might look like in the future," she adds. 

"The research made me realise that as a lecturer my role is not merely to convey theory to students but that I have a responsibility to equip students in order to apply theory, be creative, and demonstrate soft skills that industry will demand and appreciate. I was excited by research that could improve my lecturing and make me enjoy it even more. When I enrolled for my PhD, I planned to do it on creativity in tertiary education but ended up changing my area of research because of funding opportunities."

Career opportunities
When Dr Von Solms was awarded a bursary through the NRF to look at land use within the private wildlife sector in South Africa, it was not what she originally had in mind. However, by the time she finished her literature review, she was captivated by the subject matter.

“I conducted interviews with private game farm owners and managers as part of collecting primary data. The research involved putting together demographics on the game farm managers and owners and geographical data on where the game farms were located. This data would be used to determine the most productive land use combinations, what land use would generate the most income and what land uses were the most expensive to invest in.”

"The study resulted in findings that could be used to advise game farm owners how to best utilise their land sustainably, profitably and productively. This information is now being used to advise industry on how to make changes after the prices in the wildlife industry have collapsed. Those game farmers can now consider alternative land use forms and will have a better knowledge of what other land uses they can explore."

Her career highlights includes being invited to attend the London International Conference on Education (LICE), which coincided with a conference on Special Needs Education.

"Remarkably, some of the ways that special needs educators use to overcome obstacles are also applicable to tertiary education lecturing. Gathering with people who are passionate about education and listening to them enhanced my lecturing even further."

Another career opportunity was in 2018 until beginning 2020 when Dr Von Solms taught marketing and other short learning programmes to SAFCOL (South African Forestry Company Limited) Entrepreneurs.

"I am currently involved in the CFERI (Centre for Entrepreneurship Rapid Incubator) centre at the university. Usually, in my teaching I am primarily concerned with finding a way to get students to understand theory and apply it. During the SAFCOL course, however, I encountered adult students who have their own businesses and industry experience," she says.

"I believe that SAFCOL was the starting point for my research collaboration with the University of Johannesburg, which aims to use technology to assist SMEs with marketing. Currently I hope to incorporate the research within the CFERI programme at the University of Mpumalanga."

Though there have been many highlights and accolades throughout her career, she rates winning the Faculty Teacher of the Year award for 2019 as one of her top moments.

“I realised that incorporating creativity in my lectures worked and is recognised. COVID-19 forced me to teach creatively in a different way, as there were no physical classes. I had to channel my creativity by using online teaching platforms. It is good to know that UMP recognises my passion for quality teaching and the fact that I have assisted other lecturers with Moodle.”

She adds that getting her PhD was also another major highlight in her career.

"Managing to complete it between work and personal commitments just made the accomplishment so much bigger. I realised that although research takes up a lot of time, if you work hard and in a smart way, it doesn’t have to take up all of your time. Learning that in itself I count as a highlight and an accolade." 

@ Story and Pictures by Cleopatra Makhaga.