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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

Johan Cronjé and Lesley-Ann George; UFS Sports Stars of the Year
2010-10-22

Johan Cronjé and Lesley-Ann George, the UFS’s Sportsman and Sportswoman of 2010.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs
 Junior sport stars: Prof. Teuns Verschoor (middle), Acting Senior Vice-Rector with the UFS's,Junior Sport Stars of the Year: Philip van der Walt (Rugby) and Fikile Mkhuzangwe (Netball).
Photo: Kabelo Tlhabanelo
 
Kovsie Sports Woman of the Year candidates are from the left: Nelmaré Loubser (Triathlon and Duathlon), Lesley-Ann George (Hockey) and Tanya Basson (Judo). 
Photo: Kabelo Tlhabanelo
 
Kovsie Sportman of the Year candidates are from the left: Thuso Mpuang (Athletics), Philip van der Walt (Rugby), Boom Prinsloo (Rugby), Bruno Schwalbach (Karate), Johan Cronjé (Athletics), and Windy Jonas (Athletics).
Photo: Kabelo Tlhabanelo

KovsieSport at the University of the Free State (UFS) honoured its top sports achievers during a prestige dinner in die Centenary Complex on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein last night. The Kovsie Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year were also announced at this event.

Johan Cronjé was named the Sportsman of the Year. He represented South Africa at the Africa Athletics Championships. He was also invited to participate in the Grand Prix Athletics Championships in Europe. Currently Johan also holds the 38th position on the world-ranking list for the best achievement in the 1 500 m.

Lesley Ann George was named as the Sportswoman of the Year. She is a member of the South African Women’s Hockey Team which participated in the Hockey World Cup and Commonwealth Games. At the last event this team came fourth. She is also a member of the South African Women’s Hockey Team that participated in China. Lesley-Ann is also the Vice-Captain of the South African Women’s Hockey Team.

Lesley Ann furthermore made history; she is the first black UFS athlete who has been named as a Kovsie Sportswoman of the Year.

Philip van der Walt (rugby) and Fikile Mkhuzangwe (netball) was named as the Junior Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year.

According to Mr Frans van der Watt from KovsieSport at the UFS, this was the largest attendance of supporters ever who attended this event during which the UFS honoured its international sports stars.

Sport stars and supporters alike were all inspired by the guest speaker of the evening, Mr Bruce Walsh, a victim of a bomb explosion in Planet Hollywood in 1998, to be winners at a physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual level.

Media Release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Director: Strategic Communication (actg)
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl@ufs.ac.za  
22 October 2010
 

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