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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

UFS Council wishes outgoing rector well
2008-09-05

Statement by Judge Faan Hancke, Chairperson of the UFS Council

The Council of the University of the Free State (UFS) hereby expresses its heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Prof. Frederick Fourie for his contribution to building and developing the UFS. His association with the UFS stretches over a period of 40 years – first as a student, later as a lecturer, dean, vice-rector and finally as rector and vice-chancellor.

When the University was operating at a loss during 2000 and it was in a financial crisis, he came up with a financial turn-around strategy which took the UFS out of this crisis to a position where it can annually spend considerable amounts on strategic projects. This led to large amounts being invested in the academia and especially research. As a result, the UFS’s research capacity and research equipment has been expanded. Since 2003 research outputs increased with about 50%, which is a great achievement for the UFS’s researchers and its faculties.

Progress was also made with diversity, the UFS’s balanced multilingualism policy in the academia as well as administration, employment equity, the transformation plan and the institutional charter. Under his leadership there was an upgrading and extension of the infrastructure, academic buildings and facilities as well as support services and student facilities.

Prof. Fourie has an excellent intellect and exceptional abilities which can still make a huge contribution to the improvement of the South African society. As a result of personal consideration and after 4 decades’ association with the UFS including 5 years in a leading position, Prof. Fourie decided to step down. The Council respects this decision and wishes him success and best wishes.

The process of appointing a new rector and vice-chancellor will follow the normal recruitment procedure of the UFS. In terms of this procedure a representative committee of Council, which includes all stakeholders of the UFS, will consider applications that are received.

Applications will be invited through an open and targeted process of recruitment advertising, locally, nationally and internationally to broaden the pool of applicants.

Within this process Council has expressed the view that applications from the designated groups in terms of Employment Equity must be encouraged.

It is also Council’s wish that this process be completed as soon as is possible, within the approved procedure.

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  
12 September 2008
 

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