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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

Open Day attracts thousands
2012-05-02

 

Campus was abuzz with prospective students and their parents finding out what Kovsies has to offer.
Photo: Kaleidoscope Studios
1 May 2012

“It is easier to pass Grade 12 today because we don’t have a standard. However, at the University of the Free State, standards are important.”

This was Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the UFS’ message when he addressed a packed Callie Human Centre on the Bloemfontein Campus during this year’s Open Day.

“This university is the jewel of the country. Here at Kovsies we take academic standards seriously. You must know who you are in a place where academic standards are extremely important. Anyone can obtain a degree, but here you can get more than a degree. You get an education,” he said to the more than 5 000 learners and parents from across the country.

“It is not only important that you study here in South Africa, but also in other countries. That is why our students study all over the world. You must think out of your comfort zone, have a big heart, achieve great heights and show everyone that you are a Kovsie.

But, it is not all about studying – it is also about being human and reaching out to others. When you come to this university, you will also do other things that will make you proud of being a Kovsie.

Quality looks for quality. Therefore, work hard and study hard because you need to be at a good university,” he said.

The programme consisted of, among others, a spectacular laser show, a performance by Bobby van Jaarsveld and special messages from DW Bester and Sannah Mokone, Rhodes Scholars currently studying at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

In a pre-recorded message DW, a Ph.D. student in Mathematical Statistics, encouraged prospective students to work hard and persevere. Sannah, doing a Master’s degree in African Studies, said she believes in the future of the African continent. “I believe in our future students and know you can make it.”

Prof. Jansen also introduced some of the university’s recent student achievers such as Jurie Swart, regional winner of the Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Award; Farzana Samuel, named by the Association of South African Quantity Surveyors (ASAQS) as the most outstanding student in quantity surveying for 2012; and Sibusiso Tshabalala, one of Google’s Top 10 Young Minds.

Richard Chemaly, President of the Central Student Representative Council (CSRC), said that, by coming to Kovsies, prospective students would become the best person they can be. “We have over 70 student organisations to help you take part in student life activities. So, make use of these opportunities,” he said.

The programme concluded with an introduction to the seven faculties by the respective deans.

The estimated 7 000 prospective students and their parents also had the opportunity to visit faculties and the stalls of residences.
 

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