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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

Curriculum of UFS School of Management best in South Africa
2010-09-17

 Prof. Helena van Zyl

The School of Management at the University of the Free State (UFS)’s curriculum has been rated in the September 2010 edition of the Financial Mail as the best in South Africa for the second successive year. According to Prof. Helena van Zyl, Director of the School of Management, this rating was done by the school’s MBA students and alumni after the Financial Mail had used an independent company to do a survey about business schools in South Africa.

Apart from its curriculum, from the group of 14 accredited business schools in South Africa, the UFS’s School of Management was also rated by its students and alumni as one of the top three schools in terms of the quality of its lecturers (first position), the degree to which the students enjoyed the course (third position) and the value for money that the school offers (third position).

“This positive rating means that we have clients that are really satisfied with our service, and that is important to us. Our students and alumni feel that we add value, that we empower them, and that we open worlds for them,” said Prof. Van Zyl.

“In this environment where business schools are very competitive, it is an important message to send out that students and alumni are satisfied. It influences prospective MBA students’ choice of a future institution where they would want to study.

“The fact that the UFS’s School of Management has received such a good evaluation, even though we are situated in the centre of South Africa and not in a commercial hub like Johannesburg or Pretoria, is a great privilege for us. Also, if the quality of the programme is taken into account, our MBA programme is very affordable and really offers value for money,” said Prof. Van Zyl.

The School of Management, which is the flagship of the Faculty of Economic and Business Sciences at the UFS, affords this faculty a specific position in corporate South Africa.

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

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