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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

New head for Student Academic Services
2009-03-05

The University of the Free State (UFS) has appointed Mr Frank Madimetja Nkoana, pictured, as the new Director of Student Academic Services (SAS).

Mr Nkoana has a wealth of experience having worked for 24 years in the field of academic administration, 14 of which have been in leadership and senior management positions, at various institutions of higher learning.

In this post he will supervise applications, admissions, financial aid and registrations through to graduations.

The Director: Student Academic Services has a pivotal role to play in developing and supporting the University’s educational agenda.

“I consider my appointment to the Division as the correct one at the right time and a blessing to the UFS in view of my experience and training in the field of academic administration,” he said.

He believes it is only through effective and efficient academic support services that the institution can achieve excellence in its academic endeavour in tandem with its vision of being “an excellent, equitable and innovative University”.

“I must see to it that SAS, as both a sector and a process, is sufficiently and appropriately supported and maintained through an effective administrative structure that is manned by skilled and well-trained personnel, adding thereto continuous development and job enhancement – thus creating a conducive environment for efficiency and effective service delivery to students, staff and the wider community,” he said.

However, he is also mindful of the challenges facing him and the Division. He considers as his main challenge, among others, the creation of a Division that is functionally able and has as its goal the achievement and provision of effective academic administrative support to the core university business.

“Our operations should be in line with new developments in academic administrative systems to enable the UFS to achieve academic excellence and global competitiveness,” said Mr Nkoana.

“We must be able to establish and strengthen a high level of ethos of service delivery and develop good human relations between the staff and the students.”

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  
05 March 2009
 

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