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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

Intervarsity postponed to 2013
2012-03-08

The annual Intervarsity between the Universities of the Free State and North-West (NWU), which traditionally takes place in the third term, has been postponed to 2013.

The Intervarsity between the UFS and NWU is an illustrious event that has already reached the special milestone of celebrating a 70-year Intervarsity tradition. The UFS/NWU Intervarsity is also known as one of the most reckoned events on the local and national sports and student calendars, and it is widely supported.
 
Representatives from both universities could for a variety of reasons not decide on a date which suited both universities.
 
The respective Intervarsity committees and senior managers of both universities have also taken the interests of the respective university communities and alumni of the institutions into account and have decided to postpone the 70th-year celebration of Intervarsity by a year in order to be able to celebrate the milestone properly.
 
The UFS would have received the NWU in Bloemfontein this year and will therefore host the 70-year celebrations of the event next year as well.
 
Mr Rudi Buys, Dean: Student Affairs at the UFS has expressed his gratitude for the fact that both universities are committed to a special celebration of the Intervarsity tradition in 2013.
 
“The celebration of the 70th Intervarsity between the two institutions will be an important milestone to commemorate decades of friendship, collaboration and healthy competition. Therefore we welcome this opportunity to plan a bigger and better programme for 2013,” he said.
 
The UFS-NWU 70-YEAR Intervarsity firstly aims to establish the programme as a proud example for both universities, where students and staff can pit their strengths against one another in a healthy manner.
 
The aim is to extend Intervarsity to various sections of the respective university communities to enable more students to participate. For instance, more sports codes will be added to the traditional competition on the rugby, soccer, netball and hockey fields, whilst various events focusing on arts and culture, i.e. choral singing and debating competitions, as well as dialogue between student leaders, will take place as part of the programme. All campuses of the two universities will participate in the programmes.
 
Students are even investigating the possibility of electronic competitions such as on-line games as part of the Intervarsity
 
During the Intervarsity last year, several new possibilities were already tested to ensure that the 70th anniversary would be a huge success.
 
The Central Intervarsity Committee of the UFS has decided to replace the Intervarsity 2012 programme with an INTRA-varsity programme between its respective campuses. For this occasion, various sports, arts and culture, and leadership events between the Bloemfontein and Qwaqwa Campuses are planned, and the Central University of Technology might be invited as well to participate as guests in some programmes.

Media Release
8 March 2012
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Director: Strategic Communication
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: news@ufs.ac.za


 

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