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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

Making a difference is the most important thing for Gary Kirsten
2012-05-16

 

Gary Kirsten
16 May 2012

“Can I make a difference in someone’s life?” This was the central driving force for Gary Kirsten, head coach of the 2011 World Cup winning Indian cricket team. He currently coaches the Proteas.

Gary was the first guest speaker at a new series of lectures at our Business School. Challenges and solutions in management will be highlighted in the series. In his lecture, Gary was interviewed by Prof. Johann Coetzee, Extraordinary Professor at the Business School. The audience got a glimpse of the person often seen on television screens and they travelled with him from his childhood days at the Newlands Cricket Ground to his days in New Delhi as head coach of the Indian team.

His challenge in India was to develop a new culture in a team with very valuable and expensive brands. His light-bulb moment occurred on a team-building visit to Australia. His question to the team was what he could do for them and what they would expect from him. The turning point was Sachin Tendulkar’s answer: I would like you to be my friend. Tendulkar’s wife’s comment on the winning night was the proof of his success. She said: “The last three years were the happiest in my husband’s life.”

Gary said it was an incredible privilege to make a difference in people’s lives. “I wake up asking myself where I can make a difference in someone’s life. You must create an environment for people to enjoy the game, challenge one another and thrive.”

He is confident that the Protea team has the potential to be a great cricket team. He said the upcoming England tour is a test. “This tour will test us to be the top team in the following years. I would like to set them up for the best chance to win.”

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