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29 August 2018
UWC PhD Couple Celebrate Historic Academic Success Together

(Published - 29 August 2018)

Sylnita Swartz-Filies and her husband Gérard Filies made history at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) at the August graduation ceremony when they become the first married couple to receive their PhD degrees together. Both are occupational therapists and they are also the very first married couple in the country to do so in this field.

Swartz-Filies and Filies completed their first degree in occupational therapy in the 90’s. This year is an extraordinary year for them as a couple because they are also celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary in September.

Swartz-Filies went on to obtain an MA in Child and Family Studies in 2007 and will receive her PhD in Educational Psychology.

She says: “Although I had an opportunity to study at Stellenbosch University at a post grad level, I guess I am proudly UWC. I decided to stay here and I don’t regret it for a moment.”

It was when Sylnita started her career in the child, family and adolescent unit at Lentegeur Hospital that she developed an interest in mental health. She is currently working at the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) in the Special Schools System.

Her husband has been a lecturer at UWC for the past 20 years. He began his career in 1998 in the Occupational Therapy Department as the Clinical Co-ordinator, and was seconded to the Interprofessional Education Unit in the Faculty of Community and Health Sciences in 2006.

“My passion for interprofessional education resulted in me completing a M.Phil in Health Sciences Education from Stellenbosch University in 2012. In the second semester of 2014 I registered for a PhD in the Child and Family studies unit here at UWC and handed in my dissertation for examination in December 2017, under the Supervision of Professor Jose Frantz,” says Filies.

The completion of their PhD degrees was an enlightening journey for the Kuilsriver couple.

Pursuing a PhD can be an extremely challenging, time-consuming and demanding process. However, this husband and wife duo took up the challenge and managed to keep their family life afloat.

They have two children - Arian (18) in matric and Gemma (13) who is in Grade 7. “We have a close bond with our children, and while studying we developed the habit of sitting in close proximity to each other to also offer support to our children with their school work when needed.” says Swartz-Filies.

For this couple, family life always comes first. They made time for holidays, long drives, picnics and relaxing lunches, suppers on the back stoep and movie nights with friends. “We learned that a balanced lifestyle and humour is key to academic success,” says Swartz-Filies.

She says it took tremendous teamwork and a structured family life to obtain this kind of success.

“It was easier for me as a lecturer who was basically living my thesis topic. I was immersed in it daily and I was fortunate to receive study leave to do my research. My wife, on the other hand, was working full time throughout,” says Filies.

The family lives in the very home Sylnita’s late father, Pieter Swartz, built for them.

She still gets teary-eyed whenever she mentions his name, even though he died seven years ago. “He was serious about education, even though he never had an opportunity to study further himself. He had to leave school when he was 14 to help out financially, and excelled in his trade as a builder.

“My parents worked as a team and gave us, as their children, their best. The only expectation was that we had to have good moral values and obtain a tertiary education,” she says.

She dedicated her thesis to her late father as an acknowledgment of his love, support and encouragement to pursue tertiary education.

Their secret to a successful life is the support from family, their faith in God, and their passion for lifelong learning, says Filies.

“I believe by respecting and loving one another, we’ve given one another the space to evolve into the people we are today.”

The pair is very proud to be associated with UWC. “We are UWC and we hope that our story will inspire many in years to come. We give thanks and praise to the Lord for His favour upon our lives.”