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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

Lottery grant will boost public art at UFS
2009-05-25

 
 Public art at the UFS will get a major boost with money made available by the National Lottery Board. Here are Dr Ivan van Rooyen, Director: UFS Marketing, Ms Nontombi Ntakakaze (Artists in School Project) and Mr Ben Botma (Head of Department: Fine Arts) at one of the existing works of art by Edoardo Villa on the Bloemfontein Campus. 
Photo: Leatitia Pienaar.
Emerging and established artists will showcase their work in a comprehensive public sculpture project on the campuses of the University of the Free State (UFS). The aim is to create a greater understanding of cultural differences and promote the UFS vision of a truly multilingual, non-sexist, non-racial campus, says Dr Ivan van Rooyen, Director: UFS Marketing.

The National Lottery Board has approved a grant of R4,125 million in total for three major projects, one of which is the public sculpture project. The others are a Khoe-San Early Learning Centre pilot project in Heidedal, and a boost for the Artists in Schools project, which is already underway.

Dr Van Rooyen says one way of promoting the UFS vision is to create an alternative environment and provide visible, tangible symbols of change and transformation. This will enrich the educational and cultural experience of students and visitors to the campus by stimulating intercultural dialogue and providing a setting for historical dialogue between past and future.

The dream of the UFS is to inspire a sense of ownership of the campus of an open university, worthy of a democratic South Africa. “Therefore, a large-scale project of national significance has been conceptualised, where the development of infrastructure will involve the creation and acquisition of major South African art works for the long-term benefit of all South Africans,” Dr Van Rooyen says.

The public sculpture project will be implemented over the next few years. Artists will be commissioned as funds become available. The UFS will also consult extensively with local and national art museums with experience in the public art field. A wide spectrum of artists, especially artists from the black community, will be used.

Dr Van Rooyen says that many black artists have not had an opportunity to exhibit public sculptures because of prohibitive costs and the project will empower them to develop their skills. The project makes provision for both established and emerging artists to showcase their work.

The aim of the Khoe-San Early Learning Centre pilot project is to compile a curriculum that is sensitive to multiculturalism and multilingualism. The centre will be the first in the country and will respond to the need to promote and revitalise Khoe-San languages. Using arts and crafts and storytelling, as well as literacy, numeracy and life skills, children will learn to adapt to their environment and contribute to our diverse society. This centre will be a collaborative venture between the Heidedal community and the UFS.

Finally, the Artists in Schools project, which has been running successfully since 2004, will also receive a boost from the Lottery funding. Through a series of workshops that the Department of Fine Arts presents at schools, participants develop functional art products with a distinctive Free State character. These products are marketed and sold to benefit the artists, designers and craftspeople.

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
25 May 2009
 

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