Academics is in Dr Pam Serra’s blood. Her mother was a teacher and she fell in love with education too. After school, Dr Serra decided to look at degrees in sport.
Her passion and interest in women in sport was ignited during her Honours year in Sport Management and she hasn’t looked back.
Dr Serra has her DCom in Sport Management, one of the few women in academics to have obtained this qualification.
She is currently the Section Head of Sport and Recreation Management within the Department of Marketing, Logistics and Sport Management at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT).
Some of her other highlights include representing South Africa at the Academic Postgraduate Session at the Olympic Academy in Olympia, Greece; authoring a chapter in the first South African Sport Management textbook and becoming the Programme Leader of Sport Management at UJ.
Dr. Serra’s latest venture is the #gsportTUTMLS CATHSSETA Sport Management Internship program which sees nine Sport Management students join gsport to gain work experience before breaking into the job market.
She spoke to gsport about her life in sport and academics and how she dreams of becoming the Jerry Maguire of South African Sport.
Dr. Serra, where does your love for Academics come from?
My mom was a teacher and on the ad hoc occasion I was given the opportunity to accompany her to school. There I got to witness and experience first-hand, what a catalyst of change she was in the moulding and shaping of young lives. Coupled to this was and is the love for education that is within me.
The learning environment is a space that is dynamic and interesting, definitely never a dull moment. In turn, my positive experiences with my own teachers throughout my schooling career further assisted the idea of going into academics and becoming an instrument of change, support and empowerment for others.
Tell us about your qualifications and what inspired you to go the route you did?
In grade 9 within my career guidance class, assistance was given in selecting the most appropriate subjects for the career we wanted to pursue, I was so undecided and unsure though. I hadn’t found any vocation that I was 100% convinced of doing for the ‘rest of my life’, the only thing I loved and cared for was my sport.
So I decided to look into degrees that would resonate with my passion, how could I go wrong then? It was there that my academic journey would start, I enrolled for a BCom Sport Management at the then Rand Afrikaans University (RAU), now the University of Johannesburg (UJ).
Throughout my degree, I began to develop an interest in Management and enrolled into an honours in Sport Management. It was in my honours year where my interest and passion for ‘women in sport’ flame was ignited leading me to pursue my MCom in Sport Management where I specialised in the field of Sociology of sport looking at gender and media in sport and began working as a part time lecturer.
Having been a female sport participant myself, it really started upsetting and annoying me how both the direct and indirect discriminatory practises were visible for women in sport. There was a necessity to grow support and educate people on the current status of women in sport (academically, administratively, and at corporate level etc.) as an active agent, and who else than myself, seeing that I had personally experienced these barriers.
In saying this, I completed my DCom in Sport Management, one of the few women in academics to have obtained this qualification and I was soon jolted into the world of business of sport and haven’t looked back since.
What is your current role at TUT in the Department of Marketing, Logistics and Sport Management and how are you enjoying it?
I am blessed to be the Section Head of Sport and Recreation Management within the Department of Marketing, Logistics and Sport Management. To be able to work in an environment with disciplines so dynamic in nature and regarded as powerful tools in society, is truly rewarding.
As the late Nelson Mandela quoted: “Sport has the power to change the world”, this is what I signed up for and am loving every moment of it. I have a magnificent ‘tribe’ here at TUT, we are all women with the exception of one man but we truly complement and support each other as colleagues.
There is so much untapped student potential at TUT, it truly is the ‘People’s University’.
What did you do before joining the Recreation and Sport Management section within the MLS department?
Before TUT, I was the Programme Leader and a lecturer of Sport Management at the Department of Sport and Movement Studies at UJ. Throughout my 12 years at UJ, I got to observe and be mentored by not one but three Sport Management professors, the only ones in the country.
What can we do to improve the state of women’s sport in South Africa?
I believe the biggest challenge we currently have in women sport in South Africa is that women’s sport is not given the platform it deserves. Although there has been a vast improvement over the years, women sport is not given the importance, acknowledgement nor support it merits.
Furthermore, women’s sport lacks decision-making positions that have the clout to decide on funding and exposure. Additionally, is the challenge of fighting a deeply entrenched system of patriarchy, and it cannot disappear overnight or in a couple of years.
It must begin with the self, the individual and slowly through story leveraging and support in growing ‘tribes’, things will change.
What have been your greatest career highlights?
For sure it was obtaining my DCom Sport Management making me part of a very exclusive group of academics in South Africa and Africa.
Additionally, being one of the first women in South Africa with this qualification is definitely a milestone as well as being acknowledged as part of the top 15% in my qualification as a Golden Key Honour Society member.
High up on my list has also been; Representing South Africa at the Academic Postgraduate Session at the Olympic Academy in Olympia, Greece; Authoring a chapter in the first South African Sport Management textbook and becoming the Programme Leader of Sport Management at UJ as well as the Section Head of Sport and Recreation Management at TUT.
What have been your greatest learnings?
That not everyone has your best interest at heart but keep your head down and do your thing whilst always being respectful and staying humbled.
How do you make time for yourself with such a busy work life?
I am a workaholic through and through. But the difference with me is that my vocation is an extension of who I am. I see what I do as my life purpose and therefore I do not see it as work. However, I do try and spend time with family in the evenings and on weekends with the occasional annual overseas holiday spoil.
Who are your role models?
I have a couple of role models, as they all represent a specific value or virtue. From my family circle, my grandmothers for their self-discipline and determination, my mother for her gentle strength and love for others.
In the sporting industry, Caster Semenya for her resilient strength in keeping true to herself and Kass Naidoo for her ground breaking passionate thinking.
My latest role model is my leader at MLS, Dr Elizma Wannenburg. I call her my ‘triple H’ as she epitomises the characteristics of honour, honesty and humility. Lastly my students, many of them come from such challenging backgrounds but their perseverance, eagerness and drive for education and personal development is admirable.
What makes you proud to be a woman?
I am proud to be a woman because woman are real pillars of strength; we are more compassionate, sympathetic and patient in nature aka we are ‘powerful yet gentle giants’.
What is your advice to women who aspire to be like you?
I am a strong supporter of the notion that one should not aspire to be like anyone but the best version of oneself. Be proud of who you are. You are beautiful. You are strong. You are a woman of honour. Run your own ‘race’ and aspire to be the best version of yourself.
What is the key to excelling at Academics?
Hard work, self-discipline, ambition, sacrifice and a great supportive system in family, friends, loved ones or academic mentors/role models. But mostly, the strong will to want it ‘bad enough’.
What is your greatest ambition?
My greatest ambition for now should I remain in academics, would be to obtain my associate professorship. However, I have my eyes set on becoming the South African Jerry Maguire. I would love to manage athletes both on and off the field.
Photo 1 caption: Dr Pam Serra is the Section Head of Sport and Recreation Management within the Department of Marketing, Logistics and Sport Management at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). Photo: gsport
Photo 2 caption: A passion for sport lead to Dr Serra to finding her ideal career as an academic in Sports Management: “It was in my honours year where my interest and passion for ‘women in sport’ flame was ignited leading me to pursue my MCom in Sport Management, where I specialised in the field of Sociology of sport looking at gender and media in sport, and began working as a part time lecturer,” Dr Serra told gsport. Image: Supplied
Photo 3 caption: Dr Serra’s advice to anyone who aspires to be like her? ‘I am a strong supporter of the notion that one should not aspire to be like anyone but the best version of oneself.’ Photo: gsport
With editing by gsport