In a heartfelt Leadership Lekgotla farewell event at Glenara on 12 December, colleagues of Professor Sue Harrison, the deputy vice-chancellor for Research and Internationalisation at the University of Cape Town (UCT), gathered to celebrate her three decades at the university.
The farewell, hosted by Emeritus Professor Reddy Daya, the vice-chancellor interim of UCT, painted a vivid picture of Professor Harrison’s profound influence on and contribution to UCT, its research endeavours, and its global standing over the past 33 years.
Harrison has been a chemical engineering lecturer for nearly two decades, 29 years as an academic at UCT; 18 years as the director of the Centre for Bioprocess Engineering Research; and teaching or visiting researcher positions at the University of the Western Cape, Stellenbosch University, the University of the Free State, Exeter University (UK), MIT (USA), Cambridge University (UK), University of Zambia (Zambia), and Central South University (China). Harrison will be joining the University of Queensland in Australia.
The enabler, the leader, the person
Harrison’s role as an enabler is celebrated for translating visionary goals into actionable plans, ensuring the welfare and success of UCT’s research community. Her leadership has been instrumental in elevating UCT’s global presence and fostering collaborative relationships, establishing the university as a powerhouse in research.
“[You have been] wonderfully supportive and collaborative … championing UCT in forging relationships through internationalisation. [You’ve been] at the forefront of development, positioning UCT appropriately as a strong research unit, [and we appreciate] the value as a scholar that you bring,” said Emeritus Professor Reddy.
A legacy of scholarship
Harrison leaves a significant mark on the field as a chemical engineer, with numerous publications contributing to the academic landscape. Her extensive presence in international journals underscores her global impact and the recognition she has received in her discipline. She has co-authored 207 research papers in refereed journals (129), conference proceedings (68) and book chapters (10) and supervised 111 postgraduate students to completion (20 PhD and 91 MSc degrees of which 50 were awarded to women and 62 to black students).
Acknowledging the audience, including family, friends, and colleagues, Harrison expressed gratitude for her 33 years at UCT. Despite never aspiring to high administrative roles, her time at UCT has been a wonderful lived experience, she said. She emphasised the exciting nature of UCT and the joy of building research ecosystems.
“The 33 years as a staff member has been 33 years of opportunities and an absolute privilege to work at UCT.”
“It has been a real pleasure, and the 33 years as a staff member has been 33 years of opportunities and an absolute privilege to work at UCT,” Harrison noted.
Adding a deeply personal touch to the farewell, her daughter, Juliet Harrison-Egan, delivered an address, reflecting on her mother’s transformative journey at UCT. Born around the time her mother began working at UCT, Harrison-Egan’s speech resonated with the intertwined paths of personal and professional growth.
“You are a true inspiration to me and have taught me to serve society. This role that you fulfilled at UCT is truly your vocation as you did with so much passion and diligence. We are very excited for your next adventure.”
Reflections from colleagues
The farewell event also featured touching messages and remarks from esteemed colleagues and fellow UCT staff, including Emeritus Professor Cyril O’ Connor, the former dean and senior scholar in the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment (EBE); Professor Aubrey Mainza from the Department of Chemical Engineering in EBE; UCT Registrar Royston Pillay; and Dr Quinton Johnson, the director of the International Office, who sent a farewell message in absentia.
Reflecting on Harrison’s tenure, Professor O’Connor remarked, “Sue’s leadership has been instrumental in shaping the trajectory of our academic community.”
Professor Mainza shared, “Working closely with Professor Harrison has been an inspiring journey. Her commitment to the advancement of research and academic pursuits has been a driving force in our department.”
“You brought excitement around research and research activities. You are a scientist at heart.”
Pillay stated: “Your term was consequential. You brought excitement around research and research activities. You are a scientist at heart.”
Dr Johnson said, “Although I cannot be present in person, I want to convey my heartfelt appreciation for Professor Harrison’s contributions to internationalisation at UCT.”
In his closing remarks, Reddy acknowledged the sadness of seeing Harrison go but expressed optimism: “I am, however, comforted by the fact that your research and projects remain here.”
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