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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

Ensure your place at the UFS
2010-10-27

The University of the Free State (UFS) appeals to all prospective South African students who want to come and study at the UFS in 2011 to submit their applications no later than Tuesday, 30 November 2010.

The UFS is aware of the fact that learners will not have received their final Grade 12 results by Tuesday, 30 November 2010; therefore provisional admission will be granted based on learners’ most recent Grade 12 results. Final admission will take place upon receipt of the final Grade 12 results, which will be available early in January 2011.

Prospective students can obtain application forms for admission at the following places:

  1. The UFS’s web site at www.ufs.ac.za,
  2. The Information Office (Unit for Prospective Students) at the Thakaneng Bridge on the UFS’s Main Campus in Bloemfontein,
  3. You may also send an e-mail to info@ufs.ac.za or
  4. Phone 051 401 3000 and the necessary forms will be posted to you.

Senior undergraduate students (that is all students who were registered up to and during 2010 at the UFS) as well as post-graduate students, must self-register electronically on-line from Monday, 1 November 2010 until Tuesday, 4 January 2011. This includes master’s and doctoral students.

In order to encourage senior students to register online, the UFS offers 20 laptops as incentives for the senior students who successfully register online from 1 November 2010. These laptops will be handed over to the winners after the registration process in 2011.

Registration of first-year students:

The Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Jonathan Jansen, will welcome first-year students on Friday, 14 January and Saturday, 15 January 2011, respectively, in the Callie Human Centre. The Faculties of Economic and Management Sciences, the Humanities and Education will be welcomed on 14 January 2011 and the students of the Faculties of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, Law and Theology shall be welcomed on 15 January 2011. The compulsory orientation programme for new first-years will also then commence.

From 17 to 21 January 2011 first-year students will receive academic advice at the Callie Human Centre, whereafter they will be referred for self-registration. These processes will take place according to the set timetable. This timetable is available in the Kovsie Guide that will be sent to learners as soon as we have received their applications, as well as on the web site of the UFS at www.ufs.ac.za/register2011.

First-year students’ fees must be paid prior to arrival on 14 and 15 January 2011.

Registration of senior students:

Senior students who experience problems with the electronic on-line self-registration process have the opportunity to resolve problems within a programme on campus from Wednesday, 5 January until Wednesday, 12 January 2011. This programme will be sent out to students and is also available at www.ufs.ac.za/register2011. The specific scheduled day for senior students to resolve problems is the last and only day to resolve the problem.

Senior students can also contact 051 401 9111 for more information in this regard.

Students may register for prescribed modules for 2011, even though the November 2010 examination results are not yet available. Changes resulting from examination results that are made available later can be done up to and including 28 January 2011.

In terms of applications for senior students, only students who have interrupted a calendar year of study need to re-apply for admission.

Registration of students at the UFS’s Qwaqwa Campus:

Senior and first-year students of the UFS’s Qwaqwa Campus register from Wednesday, 12 January until Friday, 28 January 2011 in the Nelson Mandela Hall on this campus.

Registration of students at the UFS South Campus:

First-year students from the UFS’s South Campus in the University Preparation Programme and the Extended Programme (only Natural and Agricultural Sciences) register from Monday, 24 January till Friday, 28 January 2011 in the Arena Hall on the South Campus.

Students who have successfully completed the University Preparation Programme register with the first-year students on the UFS Main Campus on Friday, 14 and Saturday, 15 January 2011 – according to faculties (cf. paragraph 6).

Lectures for all students shall commence on Monday, 24 January 2011.

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

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