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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

Students get practical training in banking
2009-05-13

 
At the official announcement of the ABSA Internship Programme were, from the left: Ms Venete Klein, Executive Director: ABSA Retail Banking, Prof. Helena van Zyl, Director of the School of Management at the UFS, and Ms Christa de Bruin, Programme Leader: Internships at ABSA; back: Tebogo Mekgwe and Chantelle de Coning. Both are Honours students in Financial Economics and Investment Management at the UFS.
Photo: Stephen Collett

The Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS) has launched a unique programme that will give provide postgraduate B.Com. students with the opportunity to work at the ABSA Regional Office in Bloemfontein for three weeks and obtain practical experience on what banking entails.

“It is the first time in the history of our faculty that we are getting involved with a programme of this nature where theory and practice will meet,” said Prof. Helena van Zyl, Director of the School of Management at the UFS at the official announcement of the ABSA Internship Programme this week.

The ABSA Internship Programme was born out of the faculty’s long-standing relationship with ABSA. The programme, the brain child of Mr Deon Loots, former Regional Manager of ABSA in the Free State, offers the ten hand-picked students the opportunity to equip and empower themselves better for their future. They will be working at the ABSA Regional Office from 22 June to 10 July 2009 and will be exposed to as many focus areas of the bank as possible in order to give them a good overview of what banking entails.

“A degree, even an honours degree, is not enough. When graduates knock on an employer’s door he/she already assumes that the student will have a certain set of knowledge. We must once again look at ways to enhance our students’ practical and softer skills in order for them to compete in the labour market,” said Prof. Van Zyl.

“With this programme we want to equip and empower our students and develop their talents. In the end the student must be able to answer the question, “What makes me better than the 27 000 other students on our campus and on campuses elsewhere?” Prof. Van Zyl said.

Ms Venete Klein, Executive Director: ABSA Retail Banking and Visiting Professor at the University’s School of Management stated that it was always good to meet and engage with young talent, the leaders of tomorrow. “The students are entering the world of work at a crucial and difficult stage; a time when financial services worldwide are transformed. They have proven themselves academically. Now they have the opportunity to complement theory with work experience. With this programme they can develop into competent and compassionate professionals. I am proud that ABSA is part of this programme,” she said.

Media Release:
Lacea Loader
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@ufs.ac.za 
13 May 2009
 

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