Friday morning the Rosen College of Hospitality Management will celebrate the life of the late Associate Professor Mathilda van Niekerk, who died Aug. 23 from pancreatic cancer after fighting the illness for 7 years. She is survived by her husband Derik, mother Martie van der Nest, and sisters.
The memorial will begin at 11 a.m. in the Darden Auditorium at the Rosen campus and will close with a reception at 1:30 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to wear red or colorful clothing.
The South African native was a beloved teacher who strived to foster a learning environment that considered international perspectives. In all her work at Rosen, from lecturing in the classroom to mentoring doctoral students, her lively spirit and passion for teaching helped shape her students’ success.
“Mathilda’s passing is a great loss, which words cannot describe, for the Rosen college family,” says Youcheng Wang, the college’s dean. “She made huge impacts on so many of us. Mathilda was such a passionate educator who inspired our students to excel above and beyond expectations. Her positive and caring personality and her love for life influenced all of us and for that we will forever miss her.”
In 1994, van Niekerk earned a bachelor’s degree at the Potchefstroom campus of South Africa’s North-West University. Two years later she earned an honors bachelor’s in tourism and recreation management, then a master’s in tourism in 1998 and a doctorate in tourism management in 2004. She also obtained an MBA in 2013.
Throughout her career van Niekerk authored or co-authored more than 110 academic publications. Her teaching experience spanned 18 years and more than 30 courses in South Africa and the United States. She won numerous awards, including Outstanding Editorial Support in 2017 from the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, and Rosen’s University Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2015.
As an accomplished researcher, van Niekerk focused on stakeholder theory and advocated for better community-participation models that ensure destination tourism benefits the local communities where it functions.
“Mathilda was such a passionate educator who inspired our students to excel above and beyond expectations.” – Youcheng Wang, Rosen College of Hospitality Management’s Dean
Before coming to UCF, she held several leadership positions in the industry and academics that helped her take her teachings in the classroom beyond textbooks. One of her jobs was cluster leader in Nelspruit, South Africa, during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, making her responsible for the marketing, communications and events for the host city. In a 2018 interview, she said her work with FIFA World Cup was one of her proudest achievements.
During her first visit to America, van Niekerk visited the Rosen campus and said she immediately fell in love with the world-class facility. Although she had never planned to leave South Africa, she applied for a position in January 2012 and on Valentine’s Day that year she found out she got the job. On July 4 of this year she became a United States citizen during a special ceremony that was held at Central Park in Winter Park due to health.
Coming from another country, she said she initially wondered what she could teach students in America, but realized no matter where you’re from there’s always something to learn from one another and the best practices develop when you consider a wide range of global perspectives.
“For me, teaching is an opportunity to create a legacy and change students’ lives,” van Niekerk said in a 2018 interview. “There’s nothing as nice as seeing students complete the program and go on to be successful and happy in their lives.”
van Niekerk’s legacy will live on in the students and faculty members she impacted with her knowledge and kindness.