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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

South African universities: Political flashpoints or centres of academic excellence?
2009-02-11

Joint statement by the Convocation of the University of the Free State (UFS) and The South African Academy for Science and Arts

Are South African universities political flashpoints or centres of academic excellence? This is the theme of an international symposium that will be presented on 26 and 27 February 2009 by the Convocation of the University of the Free State (UFS) in collaboration with The South African Academy for Science and Arts on the Main Campus of the UFS in Bloemfontein.

Several renowned speakers such as Prof. Fernand de Varennes (of the Murdoch Law School, Perth, Australia), Prof. Stef Coetzee (former rector of the UFS and presently the executive director of the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut (AHI)) and Dr Franklin Sonn (chancellor of the UFS) will take part in the discussion. Matters like diversity, transformation and conflict management, alienation, tolerance, conciliation and solutions will be debated. Members of the Convocation and the Academy are invited to attend and take part in the discussion.

The symposium commences on Thursday, 26 February 2009 at 19:00 in the Centenary Complex with a reception and opening address by Dr Sonn. On Friday, 27 February 2009 from 08:00 the discussion of the theme takes place in the Senate Hall, CR Swart Building. The proceedings are expected to last until 17:00.

A complete list of the speakers and the titles of their addresses are available on request.  

Due to limited seating interested persons are advised to confirm their attendance with Ms Kathy Verwey at 051 401 9343 / verweyke.stg@ufs.ac.za .

Full programme

SA Universities:  Political Flashpoints or Centres of Academic  Excellence? – 26-27 February 2009

P R O G R A M
Chairperson: Judge Joos Hefer
Sponsors: The Centre for Financial Planning Law UFS
The Kovsie Alumni Trust

Thursday 26 February

19:00                           Welcome: Judge  Joos Hefer (President Convocation UFS)
19:10                           Welcome:  Prof. Theuns Verschoor (Acting Rector UFS)
19:20 - 19:50               Dr. Franklin Sonn (Chancellor UFS)
19:50 - 20:20               Mr. Dave Steward (Executive Director, F.W. de Klerk Foundation)
20:25                           Reception

Friday 27 February

08:30 - 09:10               Prof. Fernand de Varennes (Murdoch School of Law)
09:10 - 09:20               Discussion
09:20 - 09:50               Prof. Stef Coetzee (Former UFS Rector)
09:50 - 10:00               Discussion
10:00 - 10:20               Interval
10:20 - 10:50               Prof. Annette Combrink (Rector, NWU, Potch-campus)
10:50 - 11:00               Discussion
11:00 - 11:30               Prof. Pieter Kapp (President, Convocation, US)
11:30 - 11:40               Discussion
11:40 - 12:10               Mr. Sean Moodley (CEO, Desmond Tutu Diversity Trust)
12:10 - 12:20               Discussion
12:20 - 12:50               Dr. Dirk Hermann (Deputy Executive Head: Development, Solidarity)
12:50 - 13:00               Discussion
13:00 - 14:00               Lunch
14:00 - 14:30               Prof. Marlene  Verhoef (Director Institutional Language Directorate NWU)
14:30 - 14:40               Discussion
14:40 - 15:10               Dr. Danny Titus (Executive Director: Culture ATKV)
15:10 - 15:20               Discussion
15:20 - 15:50               Interval
15:50 - 16:20               Prof. Hennie van Coller (Head Dept. Afrikaans, Dutch. German and French UFS, Chairperson SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns)
16:20 - 16:30               Discussion
16:30                           General discussion: Dilemma or opportunities?
17:00                           Close


 Statement by:

Judge Joos Hefer
President of the Convocation
Tel: 051 436 1843
Cell: 083 630 1395
E-mail: jjfhefer@telkomsa.net  

Prof Jacques van der Elst
Chief Executive Officer
The South African Academy for Science and Arts
Tel: 012 328 5082
Cell: 082 8807636
E-mail: jvde@akademie.co.za  

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  
10 February 2009

Dr Franklin Sonn,
Chancellor of the University of the Free  State.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

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