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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

Spring graduation ceremony
2008-09-15

Law awards largest number of doctorates 

The Faculty of Law at the University of the Free State (UFS) this week awarded four doctorate degrees during the spring graduation ceremony, which took place on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein. This is the largest number of doctorates awarded by the faculty during one graduation ceremony. Here are, from the left: Dr Tjaart Maré, Dr Ilze Keevy, and Dr Pierre Rabie. Dr Daniel Mekonnen was absent when the photo was taken. Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

 

UFS awards degrees
 

The University of the Free State's (UFS) spring graduation ceremony took place on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein this week. Altogether 840 diplomas and degrees were awarded. Here are, from the left: Mss Mamokete Marokane, who obtained a B.Com. Human Resource Management degree, Elzaan Jacobs, who obtained a B.Com. Accounting degree, and Mmanyefolo Mosia, who also obtained a B.Com. Accounting degree. Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

 The University of the Free State's (UFS) spring graduation ceremony took place on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein this week. Altogether 840 diplomas and degrees were awarded. Here are, from the left: Mr Roger Potgieter, M.B.A. degree, Ms Amanda Share, M.B.A. degree, Zarita Naudé, B.Com. Accounting, and Mr Kobus van den Berg, M.B.A. degree. Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

 

UFS awards extraordinary degree 

Prof. Ivan Horak, extraordinary professor at the University of the Free State's (UFS) Department of Zoology and Entomology, this week became the third person in the history of the UFS to receive the D.Sc. degree. The degree was awarded to him during the spring graduation ceremony which took place on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein. Here are, from the left: Prof. Jo van As, Head of the Department of Zoology and Entomology, Prof. Horak, and Ms Ellie van Dalen, Lecturer at the UFS Department of Zoology and Entomology.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

 

UFS awards doctorate degrees 

Altoghether 29 doctorate degrees were awarded this week during the University of the Free State's (UFS) spring graduation ceremony on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein. During the chancellor's dinner are, from the left: Dr Anabela Da Silva, a student from Mozambique who obtained a Ph.D. in Plant Breeding, Prof. Maryke Labuschagne, UFS Department of Plant Sciences and promoter of Dr Da Silva, Dr Edward Jurua, a student from Uganda who obtained his Ph.D. in Astro Physics, and Dr Pieter Meintjes, from the UFS Department of Physics and promoter of Dr Jurua.
Photo: Gerhard Louw

 

Spring graduation ceremony
 

Dr. Meshach Aziakpono (middle) is one of the students of the University of the Free State (UFS) who obtained a Ph.D. (Economics) during the spring graduation ceremony on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein. Here he is with Prof. Phillipe Burger (left), Head of the Department of Economics at the UFS and mentor of Dr Aziakpono, and Prof. Stan du Plessis (right), Department of Economics at Stellenbosch University and co-mentor of Dr Aziakpono.
Photo: Gerhard Louw

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