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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

Another opportunity to take part in Success Week
2010-07-08

Student Development and Success (SDS) at the University of the Free State (UFS) is focused on helping students succeed as lifelong learners. To accomplish this, SDS has designed Success Week to provide students with the necessary skills and information to help them succeed in their studies.

The success of the first-semester orientation programme has led to the decision of hosting a Get.Success@UFS 2010: Reloaded programme from 19 to 29 July 2010.

Students who previously attended the programme thoroughly enjoyed the programme and learnt a lot from it. It also became clear that they needed more support. The aim of the Reloaded programme is to enhance students’ thinking processes regarding their personal as well as career development. It is open to all students. The focus of the presentations will not only be on helping students to make a success of their studies but also to provide those students who are completing their studies with useful knowledge and skills to plan for their career pathways.

The Get.Success@UFS 2010: Reloaded programme starts on Monday 19 July with a launch where Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, will address students and motivate them once again for the second half of the 2010 academic year. Thereafter the UFS staff will compete against the SRC in the 5-on-a-side soccer tournament that will take place at Pellies Park. Members of Bloemfontein Celtic will also be present. Students can spend the day participating in the mini soccer tournament or just come and support their teams.
This is an excellent opportunity for students to make new friends and spend the day relaxing before the start of the second academic term. There will be prizes for the winning teams as well as for the best war cry and the most spirited team and fan base. There will also be funky give-aways for the spectators.

For the rest of the week there will be three interactive sessions which students can attend to help equip themselves with the necessary skills to succeed in their studies and future endeavours. The sessions include: Game Plan for Success, How to Build your Fortune, CV Writing, and Job Hunting.
Blackboard training will be hosted during the two weeks to show students how to effectively use this medium in their studies. There will be two opportunities for students to visit and be taken on a tour through the library to learn about the services offered.

All information and detailed programmes are available at www.ufs.ac.za/getsuccessufs .


Media Release
Issued by: Mangaliso Radebe
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2828
Cell: 078 460 3320
E-mail: radebemt@ufs.ac.za  
8 July 2010
 

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