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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

Provisional registration period extended to 30 April 2012
2012-03-25

25 March 2012

After a week of intense negotiations between the senior leadership of the University of the Free State (UFS) and the Student Representative Council (SRC) of the Bloemfontein and Qwaqwa Campuses, the SRC has managed to persuade the senior leadership to extend the provisional registration period to Monday 30 April 2012.

This means that, until 30 April 2012, no students will be deregistered for not being able to pay their provisional registration fee. The initial deadline for students to register provisionally was 6 April 2012.

The SRC requested the extension of provisional registration and the senior leadership of the UFS agreed thereto for the following reasons:

  • To allow students more time to raise the money;
  • To allow the provincial and national government, as well as NSFAS more time to respond to students’ financial needs; and
  • To allow the SRC and the university more time to consult with students with strong academic records about financial aid options outside the university.

“The SRC is glad to note that the university management values our efforts in representing our students and we've been able to leverage that advantage to negotiate an extension of the deregistration date with management. We're happy that in this case management has responded to the appeal of students through the SRC and we're exceptionally proud of our ability to push student interests to unprecedented heights,” says Mr Richard Chemaly, SRC President of the Bloemfontein Campus.

According to Mr Chemaly, the SRC is confident in their negotiation abilities. “While others might strike and protest, it is in the best interests of our students to talk to the senior leadership about important issues that are in the interests of students,” he says.

“Since our request to extend the provisional registration period was approved by the university management, the SRC has been working tirelessly to ensure that no deserving student gets deregistered. This includes setting up external funds, approaching the Premier’s office for assistance and setting up the most extensive bursary database any SRC has ever had,” Mr Chemaly says.

If there are any parents or students in need of help for provisional registration, please contact Mr Chemaly at  chemalyra@ufs.ac.za.
 

Media Release
25 March 2012
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Director: Strategic Communication
Tel: +27(0)51 401 2584
Cell: +27(0)83 645 2454
E-mail: news@ufs.ac.za

 

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