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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

UFS Winter Graduation Ceremony

UFS awards record number of master’s degrees and doctorates

The University of the Free State (UFS) celebrated an increase in postgraduate successes with a record number of master’s degrees and doctorates that were awarded during the winter graduation ceremony at the Bloemfontein campus on Thursday 14 June 2012.

A total of 481 master’s degrees and 82 doctorates were awarded in two ceremonies in the Callie Human Centre on the Bloemfontein Campus. This is the most postgraduate qualifications to be awarded at a single graduation ceremony.

DiMTEC has reason to celebrate

Dr Andries Jordaan (second from right) with some of the people who received their master's degrees. From the left are Kehinde Balogun, the couple Olive Chisola-Darris en Clement West Darris, and the couple Everson Ndlovu en Patience Sibongile Ndlovu.
Photo: Leatitia Pienaar
18 June 2012

DiMTEC had reason to celebrate at the winter graduation ceremony. The Disaster Management Training and Education Centre for Africa delivered a healthy crop of 32 master’s degrees and one doctorate.

This was the most master’s degrees that the centre has been awarded at one opportunity. The doctorate, however, was not at DiMTEC – Andries Jordaan, the director of the centre, obtained his Ph.D. in Agricultural Economy.

It was also the first time that two couples received their master’s degrees at the centre at the same time.

Speaking at the event, Dr Jordaan said former students of the centre were using their expertise worldwide. Some of them are in senior positions at the United Nations, in African countries, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. DiMTEC’s students hail from 17 African countries, including French-speaking countries.

“I am proud that we have a footprint right across Africa,” he said.

Three travel all the way from Europe for their MBAs

Smiles on an important day. From the left are: Kasina Baker, Friederike Hackelberg, and Johanna Kössler and her parents and sister.
Photo: Stephen Collett
18 June 2012
No distance, time or money could prevent three MBA graduates from Europe from attending the winter graduation ceremony in Bloemfontein. Two of them were exchange students who were so captivated by the university and the country that they undertook their MBA studies at the Business School.

Friederike Hackelberg of Bremen, Germany, was an exchange student in 2008 and extended her stay to do an MBA. Johanna Kössler of Bolzano, Italy, was also an exchange student who succumbed to the charms of the UFS and South Africa. She brought her parents, George and Nannie, and her sister, Magdalena, with her to attend the graduation ceremony.

Kasina Baker of Warsaw, Poland, began her studies while her husband was working in Kenya. She wanted to study at a quality institution and thus chose the UFS's Business School.

Jessica gets three prestigious medals

Jessica Potgieter (right) was the first student in almost three decades to receive three prestigious medals at the Winter Graduation Ceremony. She received the Dean's medal as best Master's student in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, the Senate Medal as best Master's student at the university and the Award for Scientific Achievement by the South African Association for the Advancement of Science. She is seen here with her mother, Mrs Ilse van Rhyn, and Dr Khotso Mokhele, Chancellor.
Photo: Johan Roux
18 June 2012
Three daughters, three degrees for proud Kovsie mom
Liezel Alsemgeest and Adri Kotzé.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs
18 June 2012

Adri Kotzé, Faculty Manager in the Faculty of Law, is a very proud parent. In the course of one year, all three her daughters will receive degrees from the University of the Free State (UFS). First in line is the eldest, who received her Ph.D. in Business Management at the Winter Graduation Ceremony.

Liezel is a lecturer in the Department of Business Management at the UFS, where she lectures, publishes and hopes to further her research in finance. “I enjoy working at the university because you have the freedom to do your own thing and focus on whatever you like,” she says.

The title of Liezel’s thesis is Customers’ perception of business units within an agricultural business in South Africa. Her focus is on the subjects of customer satisfaction and financial management, with a specific focus on the management of agricultural businesses.

Middle sister Corné will be graduating with a master’s degree in Occupational Therapy in December, while the youngest, Adéle, will receive her B.A. in Media Studies and Journalism at the Autumn Graduation Ceremony in 2013.

“I am very proud of all three my daughters,” says Adri.

Sasolburg minister receives Dean's Medal for best master's degree in Theology
Rev. Frans Redelinghuys.
18 June 2012

Rev. Frans Redelinghuys of the Reformed Church in Sasolburg received his master’s degree in Theology at the University of the Free State’s Winter Graduation Ceremony. Rev. Redelinghuys was also awarded the Dean’s Medal as the best master’s degree student in the Faculty of Theology.

The focus of his dissertation is Spirituality. “My lecturers are all people who practice what they preach and they have shared their knowledge with me.,” he says.

“My studies also contributed to my personal development,” says Rev. Redelinghuys.

Student from the Netherlands receives degree at UFS Winter Graduation Ceremony

Deborah Van den Bosch-Heij.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs
18 June 2012

Deborah Van den Bosch-Heij from the Netherlands was awarded a Ph.D. at the Winter Graduation Ceremony by the Faculty of Theology of the University of the Free State (UFS). Her thesis, Spirit and healing in Africa: A reformed pneumatological perspective, is an interdisciplinary investigation of the relationship between the Holy Spirit and healing in Southern Africa. The research addresses the need for a reviewed and contextually reformed approached to healing.

Deborah started her career as a minister at the Valkenburg Congregation of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands in 2001. She was appointed by the missionary department of her church to lecture at the Justo Mwale Theological University College in Lusaka, Zambia in 2005. It was here that she decided on the topic of her thesis. Prof. Rian Venter from the Department of Systematic Theology at the UFS, who is also involved at the Justo Mwale College, is Deborah’s promoter and assisted her in her studies whilst she was in the Netherlands. It was also Prof. Venter who made Deborah aware of the importance of interdisciplinary research.

Well-known judge's granddaughter receives degree

Judge Joos Hefer and Annelie de Man.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

Annelie de Man, a law researcher at the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein received her master’s degree at the Winter Graduation Ceremony of the University of the Free State (UFS). She is Judge Joos Hefer’s granddaughter. Annelie was also awarded the Dean’s Medal as the best master’s degree student in the Faculty of Law.

“Today is one of the biggest highlights in my career,” says Annelie, who received exposure to the field of law from a young age.

In September, she will be leaving for Italy to study for a master’s degree in European Human Rights at the European Inter University.

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