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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

New coach for Shimlas
2012-05-24

The University of the Free State (UFS) will soon fill a newly created position, namely that of Director of Rugby.

The successful candidate will, amongst others, be the head coach for the Shimla rugby team and will also be involved in the recruitment of young talent, the contracting of rugby players and certain obligations at the UFS/Cheetahs Rugby Academy.
 
This decision was taken during a joint brainstorming session between the university and the UFS Rugby Club about rugby at the university on Friday 18 May 2012. The performances of the Shimla team during the past Varsity Cup Series was also discussed. “The meeting took place in a good spirit and it is a hopeful sign to observe that the university is prepared to go out of its way to ensure that the Shimlas perform, particularly in the Varsity Cup”, said Mr Marius van Rensburg, Chairperson of the UFS Rugby Cup.
 
Mr Jaco Swanepoel, current Shimla coach, retains his position as Head Coach of Rugby at the UFS, as well as certain commitments to function more strongly within the junior rugby structures and to train coaches.
 
According to Mr Van Rensburg, the position will be advertised as quickly as possible. The successful candidate will also have to assume duty soon, because preparations for next year’s Varsity Cup have to commence around September this year.
 
“Shimlas is a high-profile is team with a proud history and a major role player in SA rugby; therefore we expect to receive good applications. The panel that has to make the appointment will, amongst others, consist of two former Shimla Springboks, a former Shimla/Cheetah player and a former Springbok conditioning trainer.
 
The restructuring of the management model of the UFS Rugby Club is also envisaged, which will also bring about certain changes to the club’s constitution.


Media Release
24 May 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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