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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

Spring graduation and diploma ceremonies
2010-09-17

The University of the Free State (UFS) has conferred 566 grade, 41 doctoral degrees and 274 diplomas at the spring graduation and diploma ceremonies. 

The two honorary doctoral degrees were conferred on Prof. Kalie Strydom and Dr Monty Jones. The event took place in die Callie Human Centre on the Main Campus. 

The UFS Management and personnel congratulates all our graduates on this achievement!

New UFS Chancellor confers his first degrees

The new Chancellor of the University of the Free State (UFS), Dr Khotso Mokhele, conferred the first degrees since he has taken up the position as Chancellor. The UFS awarded 266 degrees and 20 doctorates to students from the Faculties of the Humanities, Health Sciences, Education, Law and Theology during its Spring graduation ceremony on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein today. Pictured at the ceremony, from the left, are: Dr Mokhele and Prof. Jonathan Jansen (Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS).
Photo: Mangaliso Radebe

 
UFS awards doctoral degree to 93-year-old graduate

This week Dr Anna de Jager received her doctoral degree in Religious Studies: Biblical and Religious Studies, during the Spring graduation ceremony of the University of the Free State (UFS) that took place in the Callie Human Centre on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein. Dr De Jager was the star of the day because she was the oldest person (93) who received her qualification during this graduation ceremony. The theme of her thesis is: Die belewing van geloofsekerheid by die Gereformeerde Afrikaanssprekende adolessente leerder.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

 
UFS honours an acclaimed educational researcher

The University of the Free State (UFS) conferred an Honorary Doctorate to Prof. Andries Hermanus (Kalie) Strydom during the Spring graduation ceremony held at the Callie Human Centre on the Main Campus today. Prof. Strydom is an alumnus and former academic of the UFS. His academic career can best be described as a lifetime of dedication to accountable research aimed at the advancement of higher education in South Africa. He is an acclaimed researcher in the field of higher education – nationally and internationally. His work over the last 30 years has not only been about supporting transformation in the education sector and specifically higher education, but also about capacity building of staff and supporting equity expectations without compromising quality.
Photo: Mangaliso Radebe

 
UFS confers another honorary doctorate

The University of the Free State (UFS) conferred another Honorary Doctorate today, this time on Dr Monty Jones (pictured), a Sierra Leonean who spent the last 32 years of his career in Africa working in international agricultural research for development institutions. Dr Jones is the Executive Director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and co-winner of the prestigious 2004 World Food Prize. The UFS also awarded 300 degrees and 21 doctorates to students from the Faculties of Economic and Management Sciences and Natural and Agricultural Sciences; and 274 diplomas were conferred on students from all the faculties during the Spring graduation and diploma ceremonies on the Main Campus.
Photo: Mangaliso Radebe

 
UFS reaches another milestone in Sign Language

The University of the Free State (UFS) has become the first university in South Africa to award a Ph.D. in South African Sign Language. This honour was bestowed upon Dr Philemon Akach (pictured), Head of the Department of South African Sign Language at the UFS, during the Spring graduation and diploma ceremonies on the Main Campus. The UFS is also the first university in the country to have a fully-fledged and dedicated Department of South African Sign Language and it was the first university on the continent to offer Sign Language as an academic course in 1999.
Photo: Mangaliso Radebe

 
Proud day for UFS parent as daughter obtains first degree

On Thursday, 16 September 2010, Ms Rebecca Mohatlane from the University of the Free State (UFS) Student Academic Services had a day every mother dreams about when her daughter obtained her first degree. Puleng Mohatlane obtained a Baccalaureus Administrationis degree from the UFS’s Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences during this year’s September graduation ceremony. Puleng is currently continuing her studies at the UFS, working towards obtaining an honours degree.
Photo: Christiaan van der Merwe

 
Second generation student at Chemistry obtains doctorate degree

The Department of Chemistry at the University of the Free State (UFS) bore witness to a special event on Thursday, 16 September 2010 when another Conradie of the department received her doctoral degree. Marianne Conradie, daughter of Prof. Jeanet Conradie of the department, obtained her doctoral degree during the UFS’s 2010 Spring graduation ceremony. Adding to the already tight family connections, Prof. Conradie also acted as the promoter for Marianne’s thesis titled Rhodium and Iron complexes and transition states: A computational spectroscopic and electrochemical study.
Photo: Susan Conradie

 
Eastern Cape MEC obtains diploma at UFS

A member of the Eastern Cape’s Executive Committee (MEC), Mr Sicelo Gqobana, was one of the 800 graduates obtaining degrees or diplomas during the September 2010 graduation ceremonies at the University of the Free State (UFS). Currently serving as the Eastern Cape MEC for Local Government and Traditional affairs in the province, where he has been involved in politics since the 1990s. Mr Gqobana is also a former Chief Whip in the Provincial Legislature. Mr Gqobana, originally a teacher, obtained a Postgraduate Diploma in Governance and Political Transformation from the UFS on Thursday, 16 September 2010.
Photo: Christiaan van der Merwe.

 

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