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17 April 2019 | Story Leonie Bolleurs
Science ambassadors
Friends Tekano Mbonani and Chaka Mofokeng are pursuing graduate degrees in respectively Physics at the University of the Free State (UFS) and Astronomy at the University of the Western Cape. The two got together and decided to reach out to the high school, Leseding Technical Secondary School, where they came from.

It was a full house as more than 120 learners packed the hall at the Leseding Technical Secondary School in the Free State, where two young Astronomy researchers had come home to tell their younger peers about their studies and career prospects across South Africa.

Chaka Mofokeng and Tekano Mbonani are both former learners at the high school. Currently pursuing graduate degrees – for Mbonani in Physics at the University of the Free State (UFS), and for Mofokeng in Astronomy at the University of the Western Cape – the two friends got together and decided to reach out to the high school where they came from.

The event took place in January before schoolwork, tests, and exam preparations are occupying learners’ minds, inviting them to think about the big picture – the future, and how to be part of it. This is timely, because in July last year, the MeerKAT radio telescope was inaugurated in the Karoo. The MeerKAT is the first step to the international SKA telescope project, but it is already one of the best radio telescopes in the world and has placed South Africa firmly on the world map of radio astronomy and engineering.

Building a bridge
“This project enables us to build a bridge between secondary and tertiary institutions. Currently focused on senior secondary students, we aim to promote science through outreach events and activities. Using science and technology-based activities and events, such as stargazing at an observatory or exploring the universe in a planetarium, we want to attract these future secondary graduates. We also provide mentorship, hoping to help them improve their academic performance in matric,” said Mbonani.

For a whole morning, they spoke about their journeys, about science, about the skills that scientists acquire during their studies and all the opportunities such studies open up in an era where the 4th Industrial Revolution is predicted to reduce the number of jobs in many traditional professions. They addressed their peers in both English and Sesotho.

Astronomy in South Africa contributes to critical-skills development. Investing in the MeerKAT, for example, meant that over a thousand bursaries were made available through the SKA South Africa Human Capacity Development programme. Young scientists like Mofokeng and Mbonani have the opportunity to be part of MeerKAT science projects through their studies, using machine learning and other skills that are high in demand in today’s world. This was one of the messages they brought home.

Gaining new skills

“As an Astronomy research student, I have gained skills such as data analysis, mathematical modelling, communication and writing, programming, and teamwork, among others. These are requirements for most companies and institutions. With the unfolding of the 4th Industrial Revolution, such skills sets make young and aspiring scientists the perfect candidates for making the most of future opportunities,” reflected Mofokeng.

Most of the learners said they have never attended a science-outreach event. They were inspired by the young scientists’ stories and nearly half of them said they could see themselves pursuing a career in science. The learners also expressed a strong interest in more events of this kind, as well as mentorship during Grades 11 and 12 from peers at university. They asked about the salaries earned by astronomers, how long the studies take, and where astronomers are working in South Africa.

This initiative, started by two bright young scientists, hopefully marks the beginning of many more events of this kind. Mofokeng and Mbonani are already planning what to do on their next trip home.

News Archive

#Women’sMonth: A career in Sign Language interpreting proves to be full of rewards for Natasha Parkins-Maliko
2017-08-03

 Description: Natasha Parkins-Maliko new Tags: Natasha Parkins-Maliko new 

Natasha Parkins-Maliko. She
was recently awarded the Pansalb
Multilingual Award in the category:
Translation and Interpreting 2016/2017,
as recognition for her achievements
in a sixteen-year career.
Photo: Supplied

Natasha Parkins-Maliko is an alumna of the University of the Free State who graduated with a master’s in Linguistics. She is a well-rounded interpreter with a language combination of South African Sign Language-English-Afrikaans. She continued her studies and achieved an international master’s in Sign Language interpreting at the Humak University of Applied Sciences in Finland.  Natasha was recently presented with the Pansalb Multilingual Award in the category: Translation and Interpreting 2016/2017, as recognition for her achievements in a sixteen-year career.

“Winning the Pansalb Translation and Interpreting Award for 2016/2017, was for me as Kovsie a pat on the back in the true sense of the word.  The university is where I started my journey in South African Sign Language interpreting, and from then on, I never looked back,” she said.

Her interpreting career has provided many challenges, and was accompanied by great achievements along the way.

A career of fulfilment in Sign Language

“The foundation of my success was laid by my lecturers and mentors, such as Dr Philemon Akach and Emily Matabane, where I trained in the Department of South African Sign Language (SASL) at the university.”

“My determination and success is grounded in the motto, ‘Inspiring Excellence, Transforming Lives’ – a continued journey in excellence gives a renewed sense of pride for all language practitioners in South Africa,” she said.

Natasha went on to work in the deaf community for most of her career. She started as a grassroots interpreter, and is now a professional interpreter registered with SATI (South African Translators Institute). She is also a Sign Language television interpreter on SABC for content such as SABC 3 news bulletins, the budget speech, opening of Parliament, Youth Day broadcasts, January 8th statement broadcasts, MPC Reserve Bank speeches, and many more. Natasha is not only concerned with growing her career – despite her mover and shaker persona, she still takes time to volunteer her services for deaf people who do not have the financial ability to pay for interpreting.

“Winning the Pansalb Translation and
Interpreting Award for 2016/2017, was
for me as Kovsie a pat on the back in
the true sense of the word.”

The journey to excellence never stops
Over and above lecturing in Interpreting and Translation at Wits University, Natasha is still in pursuit of excellence. She is a PhD candidate in the SASL Interpreting programme at Wits University, the first of its kind in the country, and is pursuing an AIIC (International Association of Conference Interpreters) accreditation. Her aim is to put South African Sign Language interpretation on the global map.

As a role model and icon in her field, Natasha is the chairperson of the National Association of South African Sign Language Interpreters (NASASLI), the regional coordinator for the African Federation of Sign Language Interpreters (AFSLI), and the Africa regional representative on the board of the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI).  The award presented to her is no doubt a fitting accolade and something all UFS alumni takes pride in.

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