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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

HIV/AIDS could kill 20% of southern Africa’s farm workers by 2020
2008-09-27

HIV / AIDS is claimed to account for 40% - 50% of infections in the workforce in some labor-intensive industries. This means that every farmer will have to replace up to 50% of his workforce within the next 10 years.

This was said by Mrs Estelle Heideman (pictured) of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Science at the University of the Free State (UFS) at the launch of a DVD about a project to equip farm workers with knowledge and skills regarding HIV / AIDS.

Mrs Heideman was quoting the research findings of Agrimark Consultant, Johan Willemse, and added that farm workers, because of low literacy levels, remoteness of the areas in which they live and the distances to health care facilities, are often forgotten when it comes to HIV/AIDS prevention and care programmes.

This weekend Mrs Heideman leaves for New York City to take up a scholarship awarded to her by the University of Columbia and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to participate in the M-A-C AIDS Sponsored Leadership Programme.

The leadership Initiative provides a structured support program to enable participants to exchange best practices in the approach to HIV prevention that can be adapted to local circumstances. At the conclusion of the program the Leadership Initiative will, amongst other benefits, provide funds for Fellows to carry out their prevention program in South Africa.

Such a program was already carried out from February to May this year as part of the Lengau Agri Centre’s Farm Project in collaboration with the Chief Directorate Community Service at the UFS on the farms Slangfontein, Dwarsrivier and Pypersfontein in the Philippolis district.

According to Mrs Heideman, who is the co-coordinator of the project, the aim of this project was to equip farm workers with knowledge and skills regarding HIV/AIDS so that they can take control of their lives and make quality decisions.

“A major advantage of working with farm workers is that the whole family is included in the session and this ensures that all generations get the same message”, she said.

At the end the feedback from the farm workers about the programme was positive. “Many said they had tested for HIV and will continue to do so to ensure that they would be around to see their children grow up”, said Mrs Heideman.

Copies of the DVD can be obtained from Estelle Heideman (0828211230) or Tarryn Nell (0832573843).

Media Release
Issued by: Mangaliso Radebe
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2828
Cell: 078 460 3320
E-mail: radebemt.stg@ufs.ac.za  
26 September 2008


 

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