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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

Kovsies honours its sport stars
2009-10-28

 

Heinrich Brüssow and Elzet Engelbrecht were respectively named Sports Man and Sports Woman at the University of the Free State's (UFS) Sports Dinner. At this event were, from the left: Judge Faan Hancke, Chairperson of the UFS Council, Elzet Engelbrecht, Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, and Heinrich Brüssow.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

Heinrich Brüssow, Springbok and Cheetah rugby player and Protea netball player Elzet Engelbrecht were named Sports Man and Sports Woman of the year respectively at the University of the Free State (UFS).

The UFS honoured its sports stars during the annual Kovsie Sports Dinner that was recently held at Ilanga Estate in Bloemfontein with the theme: Striving towards excellence.

The rugby player, Lionel Cronjé and Mari-Lise Linde who was included in the training group of the SA netball team as well as in the U/21 World Cup team were named junior sport stars.

Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, was the guest speaker at this event. Addressing KovsieSport staff and Kovsie sports stars Prof. Jansen highlighted the benefits of sport. According to him sport is a great way to build bridges between people. “When we excel in sport we will also build the university’s image. Sport is also a wonderful way to build self confidence,” he said.

The following persons received ABSA awards in their different sporting codes:

Thandi Malindi: Athletics
Johan Cronjé: Athletics
Odie Swart: Hockey
Jaco Fourie: Hockey
Elzet Engelbrecht: Netball
Obus Pienaar: Cricket
Arné Grobbelaar: Rugby
Karin Coetzee: Tennis
Reon Henning: Tennis
Gabisile Hlumbane: Soccer
Thabiso Moloi: Soccer
Sara Shannon: Swimming an overall disabled sports star

Other awards were made to:
Mr James Letuka: Executive member of the South African Sport Confederation and Olympic Committee.
Ms Nomsa Mahlangu: Executive Committee member of the South African Football Association.
Mr Frans van der Watt: Executive Member of the South African Hockey Association.
Mr Mickey Gordon: Convener of the national ladies hockey team for the South African Hockey Association.
Mr Braam van Wyk: Convener of the national U/21 ladies hockey team for the South African Hockey Association.

Media Release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Deputy Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@ufs.ac.za  
26 October 2009
 

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