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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

Repelsteeltjie: EXTRA Performance, Saturday 30 May at 11h00
2009-05-26

Production: Repelsteeltjie (Afrikaans)
Text: Thys Heydenrych
Directed by: Thys Heydenrych
Venue: Rehearsal Room, Scaena complex

Date:
22 - 23 & 25 - 27 May 2009

Friday 22 May - 11h00 & 18h00
Saturday 23 May - 11h00
Monday 25 May - 11h00
Tuesday 26 May - 15h00
Wednesday 27 May - 11h00

Repelsteeltjie: EXTRA Performance, Saturday 30 May at 11h00

Bookings: Computicket (Mimosa Mall en Checkers Money Markets)
Tickets:
R 20.00 per person
R 15.00 Blockbooking 10+

“Vandag is ek een, môre is ons twee, wanneer Pragtig haar kind vir my gee. Gelukkig sal niemand weet dat ek Repelsteeltjie heet.”

Who does not know the magical tale of Rumpelstiltskin by the Brothers Grimm. A beautiful girl is in trouble and only a gnome can help. She makes a hasty promise, but it is far too terrible to keep. Let us take you to world where gnomes can spin gold out of mere straw, where the reigning prince genuinely care more about people and less about money and where truth prevails over falsehood and chaos.

The Department of Drama and Theatre Arts dusted off this fairytale and presents a new version which promises to entertain the whole family. Bring the children to enjoy a fun morning where Grandpa may also roar with laughter.

Tickets are available at Computicket. For more information and block reservations contact Thys Heydenrych at 0722353191 or Marijda Kamper at 051 401 2160.

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