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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 to award honorary doctorate to Maria Ramos
2004-12-08

The Council of the University of the Free State (UFS) recently approved the awarding of an honorary doctorate to Ms Maria Ramos, Group Chief Executive of Transnet in April 2005. A total of five honorary doctorandi will be honored.

The other doctorandi are Proff Jan Groenewald (D Sc (hc)), Jaap Durand (D Phil (hc)), Sampie Terreblanche (C Dom (hc)) and Anthon Heyns (MD (hc)).

Me Ramos will receive an honorary doctorate in Economics (P hD (Economics) (hc)) for the large contribution she made to the establishment of a prudent fiscal and macro-economic policy in South Africa and hence, to the restoration of the financial credibility of the country in the eyes of domestic and foreign investors. Ms Ramos was the Director General of the National Treasury from 1996-2003.

She obtained the MSc-degree in Economics in 1992 from the University of London and was awarded a British Council Scholarship (Helen Suzman award) in the same year and in 1991. During the early nineties she was among others project leader of the ANC’s Macro-economic Research Group and also a member of the team that negotiated chapters on finance in the interim Constitution of South Africa. She was a research associate at the Centre for the Study of the South African Economy and International Finance at the London School of Economics and also lectured at the Universities of South Africa and the Witwatersrand.

“It is a great privilege for us to honor Ms Ramos and the other doctorandi in their different fields of expertise. This once again serves as an example of the UFS’s policy to give recognition to people who excel and make a difference,” said Prof Frederick Fourie, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS.

Prof Jan Groenewald will receive an honorary doctorate for his life-long commitment to the establishment and development of Agricultural Economics as a subject field in South Africa and in Africa and his various contributions to the UFS. During his career, Prof Groenewald received various awards among others in 1998 when he received the Stals Prize for Economics from the South African Academy for Science and Art and in 1990 when he received an honorary medal from the South African Society for Agricultural Economics.

Prof Jaap Durand will receive an honorary doctorate in Philosophy for his pioneering work on various fields in the South African society. He obtained his Masters degree in Philosophy from the UFS and contributed to almost 60 articles and collections. Prof Durand has a colourful career as academic manager: from professor in Systematic Theology and dean of the Faculty of Theology at the University of the Western Cape to Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the same university. He was the ombudsman of the University of Stellenbosch from 2002-2003.

Prof Sampie Terreblanche will receive an honorary doctorate in Economics for the important role he played, and is still playing, to keep the debate about and the need for socio-economic and socio-political reform in South Africa going. Prof Terreblanche started his career as a lecturer at the UFS. In 1992 the Stals Prize for Economics was awarded to him by the South African Academy for Science and Art. Prof Terreblanche was also a founding member of ASSET, an organisation addressing the problems of poverty, inequality and social injustice in South Africa.

Prof Anthon Heyns, Chief Executive Officer of the South African National Blood Service, will receive an honorary doctorate in Medicine. Prof Heyns is a well-known international researcher in Hematology and recently received a Centenary Medal from the UFS for his strong role and national prominence as expert and leading figure in establishing and developing Hematology at the UFS. He was the first head of the UFS’s Department of Hematology and is also co-editor of the only Afrikaans hand book of Hematology. He serves among others as a council member and member of the executive management of the South African Medical Research Council. On the international front he serves on at least five committees of the World Health Organisation based in Geneve, Switzerland. He has two honorary appointments as professor respectively at the UFS and University of the Witwatersrand.

Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel: (051) 401-2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za
8 December 2004

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