At the age of five Dr Leandi Steenkamp’s primary school teacher introduced her to playing the recorder, and soon afterward she was inspired to start playing the clarinet and later the saxophone. She excelled so much that her music teachers almost persuaded her to make a career in music, but she decided not to and chose a career in accountancy instead
Dr Leandi Steenkamp was born and raised in Bloemfontein, studied there, never left − and has been hard at work to help her students reach their potential.
Her father is a retired professor and as a pioneer in auditing research was the one who inspired her to become an academic. What Leandi loves most about academia is how it has given her the opportunity to explore her creativity and make meaningful connections with people.
‘It creates a space for deep work, serious thought, and writing. For me, the most rewarding part of being an academic is helping students reach their potential. I particularly enjoy working one-on-one with my postgraduate students on their master’s and PhD journeys through all the tears and the joy,’ says Leandi.
The COVID pandemic hit higher education quite hard, and she found herself having to reinvent the way she worked, taking into consideration the myriad of challenges faced by her students and staff.
‘We had to innovatively steer the boat through the troubled waters of financial constraints, data challenges, access to electronic learning materials, lack of electronic devices, connectivity issues and online assessments, to name but a few. But we came through this more resilient and more relevant,’ she describes.
In April she stepped down as the Head of the Department of Accounting and Auditing at CUT and handed over the departmental reins. Being part of academic management was a challenging but necessary detour in her career, but she is looking forward with anticipation to returning to her true passion − spending more time supervising postgraduate students, pursuing several exciting research projects, and being back in the classroom.
What are the key gaps you see in SA’s educational system and what can be done to resolve them?
There is still so much inequality. Learners in poor communities face deteriorated facilities, lack of books, hunger, absent teachers, low-quality teaching … the list goes on. One would be naïve to think there is an easy solution. Increased active community engagement may be a way to start addressing these challenges. Anyone can get involved, and each small step is a step forward.
Tell us more about your career journey?
My journey as a CA(SA) took me via PwC and the AGSA and back to academia, where I am currently living my passion for research and teaching.
During my time in practice, I specialised in systems and process assurance and data analytics. Back in the mid-2000s when I qualified as a CA(SA), information systems auditing was still emerging as a specialist field. As IT audit teams we often found ourselves in uncharted territory requiring out-of-the-box thinking. I ended up enjoying it so much that I also qualified as a CIA and CISA. As much as I appreciated practice, there was always a magnetic pull toward academia. Every student who graduates is a highlight for me. Under my leadership as Head of the Department of Accounting and Auditing, our team rolled out two new professional degrees as well as an extended curriculum programme. I am very proud that we were the first university in South Africa to successfully receive AGA(SA) accreditation for our degrees from SAICA.
What is your encouragement to trainees /young CAs(SA) aspiring to pursue a career in academia?
Read widely. Be willing to be mentored by seasoned academics. One can easily get tangled up in teaching and academic administration, so make an effort with your research from early on. Finding a subject field or niche area that you really find interesting will make your research journey enjoyable.
Do you feel continuous learning is important?
A good teacher must always remain a student. I obtained several other professional qualifications and also hold master’s and PhD degrees in Auditing. I completed most of my PhD with my baby son on my lap – it was a tough road, but very rewarding.
How are you being a #DifferenceMaker?
As CAs(SA), we have so much to contribute, and I believe one should plough your unique talents back into the community and other professions. I have the privilege of regularly working with candidate attorneys in the legal profession through my involvement with the Legal Practice Council’s unit for Legal Education and Development. I assist on a regional level with the facilitation and assessment of legal practitioners’ bookkeeping, preparing them for their admissions exams. Working with the National Association of Managing Agents takes my research knowledge on sectional titles and bodies corporate back to ground level.
Tell us more about your family and love for music?
As a busy mom of two toddlers, I try to maintain balance in life. Playing music nourishes my soul. I am currently looking forward to a number of musical endeavours this year. I play clarinet in symphony concerts with the Rhapsody Orchestra and take part in managing the orchestra, and also play saxophone for the rock band Valkyrie Inc. My husband Marthinus is an advocate and he shares my love for music. Together we have hosted five big rock festivals here in Bloemfontein, and we regularly arrange smaller events, shows and performances for artists. We enjoy creating a platform for musicians to share their talents and we work with many interesting creative people along the way.
What kept you motivated, sane and grounded during the pandemic?
Gratitude, family, baking bread, and spending hundreds of hours behind the piano.
Keys to success for students?
Accept responsibility for your academic journey. Time is a precious resource – manage it well. There may be sacrifices and failures along the way – stay positive.
Your definition of integrity?
Consistently adhering to ethical principles; being honest with yourself and others.