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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

SRC elections: A first for UFS main campus
2005-08-14

Students on the main campus of the of the University of the Free State (UFS) will this week for the first time vote for the Student Representative Council (SRC) using two voting systems: proportional representation (PR) and first-past-the-post. 

According to the Vice-Rector, Student Affairs, Dr Ezekiel Moraka, this year’s elections are a milestone for the UFS as it will be the first time that the main campus SRC will be elected according to the amended SRC constitution, which was approved by the UFS Council in June 2005.

“It is also a major breakthrough for student governance and transformation of the UFS main campus and constitutes a legitimate basis for the democratic participation of all students at the UFS main campus in the governance of the university,” said Dr Moraka.

The amended constitution of the main campus SRC determines that nine of the 18 SRC members must be elected by means of proportional representation and nine on the basis of an individual, first-past-the-post election.
 
According to Dr Moraka, the introduction of the proportional representation system follows earlier calls by some student formations, notably Sasco and the ANC Youth League, for such a system to be introduced at the UFS main campus in Bloemfontein.

The new main campus SRC constitution is the result of consensus reached during a lengthy negotiation process involving diverse student formations such as Sasco, the ANC Youth League, the Young Communist League, the ACDP, HEREXVII, KovsieAlliance, as well as the democratically elected SRC members of the main campus.

“Independent persons such as Mr Jack Klaas and Mr Kobus van Loggerenberg, a former SRC President, facilitated the negotiation process,” said Dr Moraka.

Students on the main campus in Bloemfontein will vote for a new SRC on Monday 15 August 2005.

SRC elections will also take place on the other two campuses of the UFS, which have their own SRC structures.

Students on the UFS-Vista campus in Bloemfontein will vote for a new SRC on Monday 15 August 2005 and Tuesday 16 August 2005.

At the Qwaqwa campus of the UFS, students will vote for a new SRC on Friday 26 August 2005.

The election processes on all three campuses will be closely monitored by independent electoral bodies. 

After the three campuses have elected their respective SRCs a central SRC will be constituted.  The central SRC will have 12 members made up of delegates of the three campus SRCs, including the presidents of these three SRCs. The main campus will have five representatives, the Qwaqwa campus will have four representatives and the Vista campus will have three representatives.

Main campus voting schedule:
Monday 15 August 2005 from 07:00-21:00.  Ten voting stations will be set up across the campus.  The results will be announced on Tuesday 16 August 2005.

Vista campus voting schedule:
Monday 15 August 2005 and Tuesday 16 August 2005 from 09:00-18:00 in the administration building.  The results will be announced on Wednesday 17 August 2005.
 
Qwaqwa campus voting schedule:
Friday 26 August 2005 from 09:00-18:00 in the Senate Hall.  If there is no objection to the final results, it will be announced on the same day.


Media release

Issued by:  Lacea Loader
   Media Representative
   Tel:  (051) 401-2584
   Cell:  083 645 2454
   E-mail:  loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za

14 August 2005
 

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