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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 helps to renovate schools
2005-10-10

Photo gallery

About 250 hostel students of the University of the Free State's (UFS) main campus yesterday painted and renovated four schools in the black townships of Bloemfontein.  This was part of Kovsie Rag's new approach to be more directly involved with communities.

Students were transported with busses and performed tasks such as the painting of class rooms and outside walls and the cleaning and painting of gutters and window panes.  The painting was judged by a panel of judges, that included the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Frederick Fourie.  These points will contribute to the each hostel's final point in the Rag fund raising campaign for 2005/2006.

 

 

Some of the students who painted the gutters of Maboloka Primary School in Bochabelo were from the left Ms Tume Kowang (18) (first year student in B Accounting from NJ van der Merwe hostel); Ms  Gloria Mangwane (19) (third year student in B Sc Biochemy from NJ van der Merwe hostel); Ms Adri Ras (21) (second year student in Occupational Therapy from Emily Hobhouse hostel) and Ms Malandi Els (20) (third year student in B Exercise and Feeding from Emily Hobhouse hostel).

See attached media statement:

UFS Rag and Eimpa paints assist with upgrading of schools

The spirit of Ubuntu will this year be truly reflected in the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Rag community out reach programme when senior students from the 23 hostels on the Main Campus will visit four less-privileged schools in the Mangaung area on Saturday 8 October 2005 to assist these schools in the upgrading of facilities.

The same day (Saturday 8 October 2005) the UFS first year students will visit the neighbourhoods in Bloemfontein from 08:00-13:00 to raise funds on an Ubuntu donation lists for Rag 2005/2006.

The Ubuntu project was started about seven years ago and it has grown each year. In the past the project was associated with a fundraising leg and a hostel publicity leg.  This year the aim is to involve the community to demonstrate how important fundraising initiatives are to help those less-privileged. 
 
The schools that will be visited are Legae Intermediary School in Batho, Mothusi Primary School in Rocklands, and the Maboloka and Lesedi Primary Schools in Bochabelo.  The schools in the Manugaung area had until 31 August 2005 to complete a questionnaire identifying what assistance is needed.  The Rag office, with the help of professional consultants from Eimpa Paints, chose four schools and visited each one to determine material/s needed to complete the work. 

Eimpa Paints is a partner of the Ubuntu project and will be sponsoring all paint necessary to complete the work at the schools.  All other material/s needed will be supplied by the UFS Rag office.

The hostels are divided into project teams and will clean and paint gutters and window sills and paint the walls of classrooms and outside walls.  At Maboloka School for instance, a project team will also to paint a wall with colourful characters.

Media release
Issued by:  Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel:  (051) 401-2584
Cell:  083 645 2454
E-mail:  loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za
7 October 2005

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