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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

Architecture does it again!
2009-03-27

 

From the left are: Prof. Jan Smit, Head of the Department of Architecture at the UFS, Wim Steenkamp, National Corobrik Architecture Student of the Year 2008, and Ms Petria Jooste-Smit, Wim's tutor and former lecturer at the department.
Photo: Stephen Collett

Architecture does it again!

A student from the Department of Architecture at the University of the Free State (UFS), Wim Steenkamp, was recently named National Corobrik Architecture Student of the Year 2008.

This is the second time in the past three years that a student from the department has won this prestigious competition.

The award, given to the best student in his/her final year of the M.Arch. (Prof) degree in South Africa, entails prize money to the value of R40 000.

“The competition was of a high standard and we are extremely proud of Wim. Seven architecture departments of universities and universities of technology took part in the competition. Students had to submit the final project that was used to obtain their professional degree. This entails the design, technical drawings, a model of a building of their choice as well as a thesis explaining the theory and approach,” said Prof. Jan Smit, Head of the Department of Architecture at the UFS.

In his project, Wim created and designed “a memorable place for the Herero culture and their history through an architectural intervention in the desert/cultural landscape”. His tutor was Ms Petria Jooste-Smit, a former lecturer at the department.

According to Prof. Smit, the department has already won this competition six times out of the 22 times it has been presented. “This once again confirms the high regard the department has in the architecture field in South Africa. It is also proof of the quality of our staff and the programmes we offer,” said Prof. Smit.

The past year was an exceptional one for the department. It received unconditional accreditation from the South African Council for the Architecture Profession (SACAP) for all three courses offered; and its students won the Tripod Photography Competition, the National Cement and Concrete Institute Competition for honours students, and the Carl and Emily Fuchs Foundation Student Prestigious Prize.

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  
26 March 2009

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