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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 residences open on Bloemfontein Campus
2013-01-21

 

Photo: Johan Roux
21 January 2013



Beginning 2013, the Bloemfontein Campus is seeing the opening of two new residences where male and female students will be housed under one roof but in separate units. Each residence will house 250 students.

House ConLaurês and House Outeniqua were opened for their first-years and Residence Committee (RC) on Friday 18 January 2013. The two newly Residence Heads, Mr Frank Makhabane (ConLaurês) and Mrs Leani Wimble (Outeniqua) welcomed the new residents.

The uniqueness of these residences is that they will be the first co-ed residences on campus. These residences are wheel chair friendly with fully equipped disabled rooms available. All signage has also been done in Braille. Each floor of the new residences has two lounges, as well as a fully fitted kitchen.

The Prime of House ConLaurês, Sherilyn Roelofse, says, “We aim to create a living space that is holistic and welcoming and will allow our residence members to be able to excel in a number of things”. Sherilyn says ConLaurês comes from the word “Condo Laurus”, which means dreams of victory. The House’s slogan is “The Symphony of Dreams”. Students came up with the name for the residence.

Tsatsi Mokoena, RC member responsible for RAG at House ConLaurês says RC members have been working hard for the past few months, trying to imagine how to do things without a physical structure. ConLaurês will be a residence with an inspirational living space where each student feels welcome, respected for who they are and at home, so that they will have the confidence to follow their dreams.”

The Prime of Outeniqua, Vusumzi Mesatywa says, “Change is always welcome and that is the mindset that we will be embracing as the new residences. When a student graduates, we need them to graduate not only as academics, but also as humans, holistic beings”.

Marla Stanier, RC First-Year Mentor at Outeniqua, says that new experiences await every student that walks through the doors of the residence. “As excited as we are, this new experience will test us in many ways.However, if we stand together as one, we will succeed.”

Mr Quintin Koetaan, Director of Housing and Residence Affairs, says, “The opening of ConLaurês and Outeniqua is a dream come true, providing accommodation for a new generation of students in the 21st Century”.

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