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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

RC members of Armentum not expelled from residence
2009-05-29

According to a memorandum of agreement that was concluded between the University of the Free State (UFS) and the Residence Committee (RC), the Senior Bond Committee and seniors of the Armentum Residence, the parties involved agreed, among others, that the RC members of this residence would not be expelled from the residence.

This follows an incident during which a first-year student from Armentum, Alex Marais, was injured because of alleged initiation and admitted to the Bloemfontein Medi-Clinic.

According to the agreement, the RC members will resign from their positions and not make themselves available for the next RC election, with the exception of Mr M.J. Pretorius, the RC member for Rag. He will stay on as unelected member of the interim RC. The UFS undertook to pay the RC that is stepping down their honorariums honorariums in August.

The UFS also gave permission to the Residence Head of Armentum, Adv. Bradley Smith, to appoint an interim RC for the remaining period of office of the current RC.

The Senior Bond must also undertake to submit the current rules of the Senior Bond Committee to the Acting Rector, Prof. Teuns Verschoor, before 1 June 2009. The Senior Bond Committee undertakes to comply strictly with these rules, also during Senior Bond activities.

In addition the Senior Bond Committee and the current Residence Committee must submit the following information to Prof. Verschoor before the reopening of the UFS for the second semester :
- The current orientation practices with regard to first-year students.
- Proposals on how the practices can be adjusted to render them enforceable within humane, reasonable, fair and humanitarian limits in order to implement and comply with the objectives of orientation, the exercising of control and the laying down of rules.

The compensating fine that was levied against the tuition fees accounts of senior students of Armentum, which would have been used to contribute to the medical costs of Alex Marais, is now cancelled.

This settlement is final and the parties will not lay any claims against each other as a result of this incident in future.

Media Release:
Mangaliso Radebe
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2828
Cell: 078 460 3320
Email: radebemt.stg@ufs.ac.za
29 May 2009

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