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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

UFS closes pedestrian entrances to improve safety on campus
2010-08-05

The University of the Free State (UFS) will remove pedestrian gates on its Main Campus in an extra effort to improve safety on this campus.

It was decided to implement this plan because the campus covers a huge area and people who are not part of the campus community hang around on the campus, sometimes causing damages. This idea is also strongly supported by students, in particular with regard to the removal of the pedestrian thoroughfares close to the hostels.

The following pedestrian gates will not be removed:

- The pedestrian thoroughfares on both sides of the DF Malherbe Gate (next to the Faculty of Health Sciences). Both the main gate and the pedestrian thoroughfares at the DF Malherbe Gate remain open 24 hours a day.
- The pedestrian thoroughfares at the Badenhorst Street Gate (close to Roosmaryn Residence). The Badenhorst Gate is not open 24 hours a day, but the pedestrian thoroughfare will remain open 24 hours a day.

The following pedestrian thoroughfares will be removed with effect from 1 September 2010:

- The pedestrian thoroughfare to the east of Pellies Park
- The pedestrian thoroughfare to the west of Pellies Park (directly behind JMB Hertzog Residence)
- The turnstile between the Kovsie Church and the Wynand Mouton Gate
- The pedestrian thoroughfare behind the tennis courts
- The pedestrian thoroughfares behind the rugby fields

A request was also directed at the Kovsie Church to close down the pedestrian thoroughfare between the Kovsie Church and the UFS. This gate will then be opened during church activities.

From 1 September 2010, the personnel of Security Services will regularly patrol the fences. Trespassers that flatten the fencing to enter the campus will be prosecuted.

Students, personnel and visitors are encouraged to make use of the main entrance gates of the UFS. These include the Main Gate (in Nelson Mandela Drive), the Wynand Mouton Gate (in DF Malherbe Drive), the DF Malherbe Gate (in Wynand Mouton Drive), the Badenhorst Street Gate (close to Roosmaryn Residence) and the Furstenburg Gate (in Furstenburg Road).

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

 

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