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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

Intravarsity brings Kovsie Campuses together
2012-05-09

 

Bloemfontein and Qwaqwa Campuses find each other in sport, arts and culture.

 

Intravarsity Photo Gallery
 

Intravarsity

Two campuses, one university, students coming together for a weekend filled with sport, arts and culture. That was the backdrop to Intravarsity 2012, which was held at the University of the Free State (UFS) on 4 and 5 May 2012.

Students from the Bloemfontein and Qwaqwa Campuses came together on the Main Campus to compete in soccer, netball, cross-country, basketball, debating and chess.

The Qwaqwa Campus raked up victories in soccer with their men’s and women’s teams beating their Bloemfontein counterparts. The women’s team won 3-2, while the men triumphed with 1-0.

Bloemfontein Campus beat Qwaqwa Campus 34-12 in netball, 2-0 in chess and 36-34 in basketball.

However, Intravarsity is not just about sport. Students from the two campuses also engaged in art, cultural and leadership events. These events included a musical festival with top local DJs and a leadership breakfast attended by the student leadership from both campuses.

Talking at the leadership breakfast, Prof. Kwandiwe Kondlo, Head of the Centre for Africa Studies, urged student leaders to strive for selfless leadership. “We want our student leaders to be better leaders than we are. Perhaps at one moment some of you may end up leading this country. I hope when your time comes you will save South Africa from the democratisation of shamelessness and corruption, which has gained the upper hand.”

Mr Rudi Buys, Dean of Student Affairs, told the student leaders that the institution was in crisis five years ago. “Today our campuses are together. I hope the significance of the weekend is not lost.”

Intravarsity 2012 replaced this year’s Intervarsity. The annual Intervarsity between the UFS and North-West University (NWU) has been postponed to 2013.
 

Kovsie student leaders discuss leadership at Intravarsity


Student leaders from the Bloemfontein and Qwaqwa Campuses attended a leadership breakfast during the Intravarsity weekend of 4 and 5 May 2012. The breakfast, held on the Main Campus, was hosted by the Division: Student Affairs.

Taking lessons in leadership from Prof. Kwandiwe Kondlo, Head of the Centre for Africa Studies, the Kovsie student leaders discussed the duties and responsibilities of leadership, not only on our campuses but also throughout the country.
 
Highlighting the role of student leadership Prof. Kondlo told students they needed to be active partners in building a cohesive and united university.
 
“Student leadership is important in the life of any university; it creates conditions the university requires for the construction and production of knowledge. This is very important; hence cooperation between student leadership and management is so vital.”


Prof. Kwandiwe Kondlo’s speech that he delivered at the leadership breakfast.
(pdf format)
 

 

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