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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

Kovsie's netball players triumph
2009-07-24

 
The Free State U-19 team that won the 2009 SA’s tournament that was held in Mafikeng.
 
 In action are Danique du Toit (left) and Mioné Steinman of the Free State U-19 team against the Western Province. They also won the 2009 SA’s tournament that was held in Mafikeng.
Photos: Markus Steinman
The University of the Free State’s (UFS) first netball team brought the silver medal home this year after they ended second in the University Sport South Africa (USSA) Tournament that was held in Johannesburg. According to Ms Burta de Kock from KovsieSport at the UFS and coach of the team, the team suffered somewhat due to injuries and the fact that eight of their players were newcomers.

In spite of these challenges, six of the UFS players were included in the USSA team. They are Carine Terblanche, Shirolene Smith, Lienke Perold, Anuschka Greeff, Karla Mostert and Anja Zandberg. Karin Venter, also from KovsieSport at the UFS, was appointed as coach of the SA Universities Team.

Kovsie’s netball players also recently played for the Free State U-19 team in a tournament in Mafikeng. The entire team consisted of Kovsies. They won the gold medal by winning all their matches against other regions and provinces. Four of the Kovsie players were also included in the South African U-19 group. They are Karla Mostert, Mione Steinman, Cleopatra Kgoputso and Anuschka Greeff. Anuschka was named as the best goal shooter during the tournament.

The entire Free State U-21 team, which brought home the silver medal after they had lost to Gauteng in the final match, also consisted of Kovsie netball players. Six of these players were included in the South African U-21 team. They are Anja Opperman, Anja Zandberg, Poppie Thethele, Rika Stevenson, Nadia Nieuwoudt and Iselma Parkin. Iselma Parkin was also named the best defender of the tournament and Poppie Thethele the best centre player.

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