This lecturer with a heart of gold just won a new Mercedes-Benz

Christa van Zyl was unhappy. Single, in her early thirties, she found herself working as a graphic designer in Cape Town. A saturated industry with limited opportunities meant working late into the night at a thankless job just to get by. Her life wasn’t going to get better unless something changed. So Van Zyl took matters into her own hands, and applied for a lecturing position at the University of Johannesburg.

She quit her job before she knew whether she would get the new position. Positive thinking brings rewards. Her application proved successful, and Van Zyl had to act fast. In two short weeks she packed up her belongings, drove to Johannesburg and started a new life. “From the first moment I started teaching I knew that this is what I had always been meant to do,” she says.

Today she has a family and a daughter. She has her students, sharing a bond with them that has grown out of an approach to teaching rooted in empathy. Van Zyl aims to understand where a student is coming from in order to work through problems together. She channels her passion for helping others into community engagement projects, using design to create a better life for others.

And now her life has been changed for good. If you don’t try you’ll never know. Van Zyl took a chance and entered a competition. Against all odds, she won. Her prize? A Mercedes-Benz C-Class. With a new vehicle to her name, her trajectory is moving steadily upwards. While life is good now, it’s only going to get better. Van Zyl is planning to do her PhD on human-centred design, or design for the greater good. She wants to have another child, and to move into a bigger house. Goals that she is now one step closer to reaching.