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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

Kovsies goes green
2012-08-22

The university will soon be hosting its first Green Festival that will focus on protecting and sustaining natural resources for current and future generations.

The aim of this festival is to demonstrate to students, learners and the broader community that any act, no matter how small, makes a difference and that each individual must play his or her role in creating a sustainable environment and caring for the earth.

Busi Madikizela, SRC member: Student Development and Environmental Affairs, said, “We have a moral obligation to do this as it not only teaches our students about sustainable living, but also sets an example for the communities that the university forms part of and serves.”

The festival takes place on Saturday, 8 September 2012 and will be filled with fun and games.

The university has invited Grade 9 to 11 learners from 41 schools around Bloemfontein to participate in cleaning up the city. The learners and Kovsie students will clean the streets around the Bloemfontein campus. The clean-up teams will meet on the campus in the vicinity of Mooimeisiesfontein, whereafter the rubbish collected will be sorted and taken to the Rat Race recycling company.

Other activities for the day include a Green Quiz that will help educate learners and students about green issues. Coca Cola will sponsor the prizes for the festival, as well as the food and drinks for all the learners invited to the festival. The learners will visits 20 stalls and exhibitions of sustainable green materials and organic food on the Red Square. Documentary movies with green themes on environmental issues will be screened.

Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the university, has urged everyone to participate in the Green Festival.

For more information contact Busi at 072 485 6796 or 051 401 9101.

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