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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

Another boost for sport at the UFS
2005-10-13

A contract formalizing the appointment of Sports Plan (Pty) Ltd was signed by Prof Verschoor and Mr Morne du Plessis in the historic Main Building of the UFS Bloemfontein campus.

 

The University of the Free State (UFS) has officially appointed Sports Plan (Pty) Ltd, which has former Springbok rugby captain Morné du Plessis as managing director, to manage its Centre for Exercise and Sport Science Services (CESSS) on the Bloemfontein campus.

According to Prof Teuns Verschoor, Vice-Rector: Academic Operations, the appointment of Sports Plan (Pty) Ltd is another step in the implementation of the UFS’s wide-ranging sport strategy to improve sport facilities and elevate formerly marginalized sports such as soccer, hockey, netball, tennis etc.

Sports Plan (Pty) Ltd is the manager of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa and coordinates and manages the national basketball high-performance programme of SA Basketball, as well as the Boxing Academy on behalf of Boxing South Africa. 

“It is also actively involved with the sports plans of several tertiary institutions like that of the University of Johannesburg and the University of Stellenbosch,” said Prof Verschoor.

“Sports Plan (Pty) Ltd was also appointed by the Ministry of Sport and Recreation to manage the allocation of sports codes to high-performance centres and to oversee the allocation of monies received from the National Lottery to these centres – this includes the CESSS at the UFS,” Prof Verschoor added.

In unfolding its national sports plan, the Ministry of Sport and Recreation has already identified the UFS-based CESSS as the high-performance testing centre for the national basketball teams whilst the national boxing teams are also earmarked to be trained at the UFS.

“We are glad to be associated with a company of this stature and look forward to work with them in the further development of sports at the UFS,” said Prof Verschoor.

According to Prof Verschoor, the CESSS will act as a centralised body that is responsible for the coordination and management of joint initiatives between professional service providers, research projects and KovsieSport.

“The centre will also coordinate and manage joint initiatives between various academic programmes in different academic subject fields such as sports medicine, bio kinetics, physiotherapy, dietetics, etc. ,” said Prof Verschoor.

These initiatives will help the UFS to become a centre and catalyst of sports development, to become internationally recognised in the field of exercise and sports science research and to become a centre for high quality sports performance enhancement.

Some of the objectives of the CESSS are:

  •  

  • To provide sports science services like to athletes, students, the general public and other stakeholders including certain national sport teams.
  • To provide the necessary teaching and training facilities and internship opportunities for UFS students in sports related fields of study will also be provided by the centre like human movement science.
  • To present skills-transfer programmes directed at the broader community like development of skills in various sporting codes.
  • To continue and extend the current chronic risk reversal programmes presented by the Department of Human Movement Science such as obesity management, cardiac rehabilitation and other lifestyle related conditions.

The centre was founded in 2003 and was until now managed by Dr Louis Holtzhausen, from Kovsie Health and a consultant, Dr Gary Vorster. 

A contract formalizing the appointment of Sports Plan (Pty) Ltd was signed today by Prof Verschoor and Mr Morne du Plessis in the historic Main Building of the UFS Bloemfontein campus.

 

 

 

 

The manager of the centre appointed by Sports Plan (Pty) Ltd is Mr Charles Store, an alumnus of the UFS, previously employed at the Sports Science Institute in Cape Town and by the SANDF at 3 Military Hospital, Bloemfontein.

 

Media release
Issued by: Anton Fisher
Director: Strategic Communication
072-207-8334
12 October 2005
 

 

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