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Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Extraordinary Women: Theresa Williams

Theresa Williams made maritime history by becoming the first female marine pilot on the African continent, in 2001. She’s also a committed alumnus, having recently being voted onto CPUT’s Alumni Association (AA) executive by fellow alumni.

Williams completed her National Higher Diploma in Maritime Studies in 2010, having initially completed her certificate in 1998. We spoke to this trailblazer for more insight into her life and aspirations.

Tell us about your time at CPUT – your lecturers, classmates and general experience?

Head of the Maritime Studies Department, Associate Prof Captain Snyders, was a great mentor and teacher. He was instrumental in the earlier years when I started studying and was struggling to understand various concepts related to the maritime world. He was a consistent believer when I was a student and also gave me great support later, when I lectured in the department.

I’d also like to acknowledge Captains Stohr, Pawley and Pearson for their positive contribution, especially as they embraced change in the early 90’s, when larger groups of previously disadvantaged students entered this sector.

Since graduating, please tell us a little of your career progression, your current position and what this entails?

I’ve been active in the maritime industry for more than 20 years. Over the past two decades I have progressed from being a Ship Navigation officer to becoming the first woman to pilot a ship in Africa. I’ve worked as a Marine Operations Manager at Transnet, and am currently running my own consultancy as a Maritime Specialist. I work with the European Union as an independent consultant, developing and delivering maritime training materials to the Western and Central African region. I work closely with Maritime institutions of higher learning there.

What are the things you love about your job – and what personality traits would you say are essential for dealing with the inevitable stresses?

The maritime industry is ever-changing and I’m always learning new things. I’ve been to many countries on various continents, which is a huge plus! I’ve met many different people, experienced different cultures and enjoyed all kinds of cuisine.

I’m an adventurous person by nature. I love exploring and have an ability to be away from my family and country for long periods at a time. The longest I was away was for eight months in 2014, serving on a vessel which operated between the Republic of Congo and South America. That was very exciting.

Being able to remain focused on long-term goals is a good trait to have in this job. I don’t give up when facing challenges - I always keep my eyes on the prize.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now and what advice would you give to new graduates (especially women) about to enter the world of Maritime Studies?

I’d like to play a more active role internationally in the Maritime industry through my consultancy. My advice would be to stay focused and have a positive attitude – it definitely determines your altitude. Don’t be afraid to give this industry your best. The maritime sector is one of the fastest growing economic sectors worldwide. It’s an industry that still has real employment opportunities, with jobs internationally.

As newly-elected to the executive of the AA, please tell us about the plans you may have for taking the AA from good to great?

Together with the AA Exco team, we’d like to ensure that we help CPUT achieve its strategic objectives and strengthen its African footprint in this regard. Part of our mandate is to build greater relationships with current learners and previous alumni. We’d especially like to develop partnerships in giving unemployed graduates access to the workforce. We can only do this by working closely with other partners, such as the SRC. I’m humbled by this opportunity to serve on the AA Exco and hope to make a real impact over the next 3 years. My favourite quote, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, says it all.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Written by Janyce Weintrob

Tel: +27 21 460 3514
Email: weintrobj@cput.ac.za