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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

UV vestig hom afgelope eeu as leier op verskeie terreine
2004-05-11

Michelle O'Connor - Volksblad - 11 Mei 2004

Ondank terugslae nou 'n 'gesonde volwassene'

HOEWEL die Universiteit van die Vrystaat (UV) vanjaar sy eeufees vier en met 23 000 studente die grootste universiteit in die sentrale deel van die land is, was dié instelling se geboorte glad nie maklik nie. MICHELÉ O'CONNOR het met prof. Frederick Fourie, rektor, oor die nederige begin van dié instelling gesels.

DIE behoefte aan 'n eie universiteit in die Vrystaat het reeds in 1855, kort ná die stigting van Grey-kollege, kop uitgesteek.

Grey se manne het hulleself teen 1890 begin voorberei om die intermediêre B.A.-eksamens af te lê. Dié eksamen het hulle toegang gegee tot die tweede jaar van 'n B.A.-graad aan die destydse University of the Cape Good Hope, nou die Universiteit van Kaapstad.

"Presidente F.W. Reitz en M.T. Steyn het destyds albei die stigting van 'n universiteit hier bepleit. Die grootste rede was sodat die seuns van die Vrystaat nie weggestuur word nie.

"Dié twee se droom is op 28 Januarie 1904 bewaarheid toe ses studente hulle onder dr. Johannes Bril, as hoof/rektor van Grey-kollege, vir die graad B.A. ingeskryf het. Dié graad is aanvanklik deur die Kaapse universiteit toegeken.

"Net die klassieke tale soos Latyns en Grieks, die moderne tale, Nederlands, Duits en Engels, filosofie, geskiedenis, wiskunde, fisika, chemie, plant- en dierkunde is aanvanklik aangebied.

"Die UV se geboue het gegroei van 'n klein tweevertrek-geboutjie wat nou naby Huis Abraham Fischer staan, en verblyf in die Grey-kollege se seunskoshuis," sê Fourie.

Volgens hom is die universiteit se eerste raad en senaat tussen 1904 en 1920 saamgestel. Die eerste dosente is aangestel en die eerste geboue opgerig. "Dié tyd was egter baie moeilik.

"Die instelling het teen 1920 net 100 studente gehad en was geldelik in die knyp. Daar was geen vaste rektor nie en geen vooruitgang nie. Vrystaatse kinders is steeds na ander universiteite gestuur.

"Ds. J.D. Kestell, rektor van 1920 tot 1927, het egter dié instelling finaal gevestig.

"Hy het self studente van oor die hele Vrystaat gewerf en geld by onder meer kerke en banke ingesamel. Kestell het selfs Engelse ouers oortuig om hul kinders na die Greyuniversiteitskollege (GUK) te stuur en teen 1927 het dié instelling met 400 studente gespog.

"In die tydperk tussen 1927 en 1950 het die GUK weer verskeie terugslae beleef.

"In dié tyd was dit onder meer die Groot Depressie en die Tweede Wêreldoorlog. Die armblanke-vraagstuk het regstreeks op studente en dosente ingewerk en die politieke onderstrominge van dié tyd het die instelling ontwrig.

"Die GUK het egter oorleef en die Universiteitskollege van die Oranje-Vrystaat (UKOVS) is in 1935 gebore," sê Fourie.

Hy sê in dié tyd is verskeie fakulteite gevestig en teen 1950 het die UKOVS met 1 000 studente gespog.

Teen 1950 het dit 'n onafhanklike universiteit geword en die naam is verander na die Universiteit van die OranjeVrystaat (UOVS).

Dié tydperk is gekenmerk deur Afrikaner- en blanke selfvertroue en heerskappy. Studentegetalle het tot 7 000 in 1975 gegroei en heelwat vooruitgang het in dié tyd plaasgevind.

"Tussen 1976 en 1989 sukkel dieuniversiteit weer met onder meer ekonomiese krisisse, die land se politieke onstabiliteit en word die UOVS geï soleer.

"Een ligpunt in dié tyd is die toelating van die eerste swart studente, die nuwe Sasol-biblioteek en die fakulteit teologie wat die lig sien.

"Tussen 1990 en vanjaar het die UOVS verskeie op- en afdraandes beleef. Die universiteit doen nie net die eerste stappe van transformasie nie, maar begin ook aan 'n beleid van multikulturaliteit werk.

"Die UOVS se naam verander in 1996 na die Universiteit van die Vrystaat/University of the Free State en in 2001 word die Sotho-vertaling bygevoeg.

"Geldelike druk en probleme neem drasties toe en personeel word gerasionaliseer.

"Teen 2000 begin die UV met 'n draaistrategie en studentegetalle neem tot meer as 23 000 toe," sê Fourie.

Hy sê die UV het die afgelope eeu nie net verskeie terugslae oorleef nie, maar homself ook op verskeie gebiede as 'n leier gevestig.

Die universiteit behaal sy eie geldelike mikpunte, neem 'n nuwe taalbeleid van veeltaligheid aan en herbelê in personeel.

Die instelling inkorporeer die kampusse van die Vista- en Qwaqwa-universiteit en groei internasionaal.

Die UV vestig ook fondamente van 'n institusionele kultuur van verdraagsaamheid, geregtigheid en diversiteit.

"Die baba het in die afgelope eeu 'n gesonde volwassene geword."

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