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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

Prof Frederick Fourie to step down as UFS rector
2008-09-08

“It is with sadness that I hereby announce my intention to step down as rector and vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State (UFS) in the 4th quarter of this year.

Obviously this decision has not been taken lightly. After careful consideration I am, however, convinced that this is as far as I can take the UFS as vice-chancellor and rector. This flows primarily from the exhausting times that I have experienced during the past nine years, first as vice-rector (since 1999) and then as rector (since 2003), in managing and implementing several complex strategic projects.

The challenges and complexities of continuous change management at a higher education institution, and specifically the demands of further dynamic development and transformation at the UFS, demand enormous amounts of emotional energy and drive. For me the stress due to, especially, the political divisions and tensions in the UFS Council and the broader university community during the past year has been extremely draining. The broader institution and its people also show signs of trauma.

I think it is time for new and fresh leadership, especially in the light of the transformation challenges of the UFS.

I have thus decided to step down in the interest of transformation and the further dynamic development of the UFS.

Having been on sabbatical leave since May, I will not return to take up my post. I will remain on leave until my official date of retirement from office. (The exact date must still be determined.)

I am grateful for the opportunity to have been at the helm of the UFS and to help the institution cross several bridges. During the past nine years I have been privileged to lead large strategic projects together with many dedicated and talented UFS colleagues. It has been a wonderful experience of thinking and working together in order to elevate the functioning of the University to new levels in several key areas.

One of the most important projects was the financial turnaround strategy of 2000-2005, which took the UFS from a financial crisis to a situation where currently it annually has almost R100 million of discretionary funding available to spend on strategic projects, and where staff remuneration and promotion opportunities have increased dramatically since 2000. In this period the UFS has also grown from approximately 10 000 students to more than 27 000 in 2008.

A second was the strategy to invest strongly in the academic core and notably research, research capacity and research apparatus. Since 2003 research outputs have increased by approximately 50% - a significant accomplishment of our researchers and faculties. In conjunction with this, the launch of the six strategic academic clusters (focus areas) should create the basis for the continued growth in the national and international stature of the UFS in future. The development of the national leadership role of the UFS with regard to community service also was a special and successful project.

A third large strategic project was the progress with regard to diversity, the balanced multilingualism policy in the academe as well as the administration, the employment equity plan, the UFS transformation plan and especially the institutional charter – which could lay the foundation for a university where one and all can experience a true sense of belonging amidst diversity. These have been important steps that we can feel proud of (although much work obviously remains with regard to non-racialism and also non-sexism).

As far as residences are concerned, it was historically significant that this time, in contrast to 1997/8, the UFS succeeded in crossing the bridge of diversity and integration in residences – with due regard to the difficulties we faced. Hopefully this will considerably ease the task of my successor and her/his management team in managing diversity and in pursuing best practice transformation.

A fourth large project was the large-scale upgrading and development of infrastructure, academic buildings and facilities as well as support service facilities, student facilities and pedestrian walkways. The objective was a campus of the highest quality and aesthetics to effect a lasting improvement in their work- and living environment for staff and students. Indeed, the UFS Main Campus today is seen as an example of sensitive and high quality campus planning.

Other initiatives which haven’t borne fruit yet are, for example, those with regard to entrepreneurial activities, sport development and sport business development, and the possible establishment of an engineering programme or faculty at the UFS.

On the whole the most important thing for me has been the progress in establishing a deep commitment to quality and equity/fairness and in boosting the national and international profile of the UFS as a high quality progressive university. Of course, justice, equity and quality intrinsically are challenges which require daily dedication to make it an ingrained habit.

I wish to thank all those people with whom I could work during the past years in tackling large and complex challenges with mutual loyalty, shared wisdom and effort – from the Financial Turnaround Team to the Exco, the Executive Management, the Faculties, the Senate, support service divisions, the University Council and several committees and task teams”.

Frederick C.v.N. Fourie
Rector and Vice-Chancellor
University of the Free State

Prof Frederick Fourie has been with the UFS since 1976. After obtaining a PhD in Economics from Harvard he was appointed professor at the age of 29 in 1982, head of the Department of Economics in 1992, Distinguished Professor in 1998, Dean of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences in 1997, Vice-rector: Academic in 1999 and vice-chancellor in 2003.

Media Release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@ufs.ac.za  
8 September 2008
 

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