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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

Qwaqwa Campus opens: Prof. PA Mbati's speech
2005-01-22

Official welcome speech by Prof. PA Mbati for 2005 first year students held on Saturday 22nd January 2005. Program Director, The Chief Director Operations Rev. Kiepi Jaftha, Dean of Students Dr. Natie Luyt, Program Head of the Faculty of Humanities, Dr. Elias Malete, Program Head of Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, Prof. Riaan Luyt, Acting Program Head of the Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences Prof. Andries Venter, Deputy Director Student Affairs Mr. Teboho Manchu, Coordinator Finance: Mrs. Elizabeth Nchapi, Senior Librarian Mr. Stoffel Kok, Senior Magistrate Mr Saul Mohosho, SRC President Mr. Tello Motloung, members of staff, invited guests, parents, guardians, my dear students, ladies and gentlemen.

It is indeed my pleasure to welcome you to the official welcoming ceremony of the UFS-Qwaqwa Campus 2005 first year students. Our Rector and Vice Chancellor Professor Frederick has requested me to pass to you his warmest wishes and regards on this special occasion. I am confident that the orientation exercise in which you have participated has achieved the desired effect of introducing you to your new way of life here on campus, and that you are now sufficiently prepared to get on with the rigors of being a student at this University.

Following the restructuring of the higher education landscape, the Qwaqwa campus was incorporated into the University of the Free State with effect from January 1 2003 . As a consequence, Management was faced with a whole complex series of challenges including, primarily making the campus financially viable, but also ensuring that it remains relevant in it’s core business as a satellite campus of the University of the Free State in terms of its teaching, learning, research and community service responsibilities.

A whole series of strategic planning workshops were conducted last year with both internal and external stakeholders. Various important strategic objectives were flagged out, and the next level of consultation will take place soon. I know that there is a lot of eagerness, sometimes to the level of impatience to see this process completed as quickly as possible. But again on the other hand, due to the far reaching consequences of any hasty decisions, plus the need for a carefully planned process, we need to be a little more patient before the implementation of the strategic objectives is implemented. You will be kept informed as this important and critical aspect in the evolution of our campus takes place.

As a response to the need for a more effective governance model on the Qwaqwa campus, a review of the governance structure was completed towards the end of 2004 and will soon serve before the Executive of the Executive Management for approval.

Due to the importance that top management attaches to the development of an effective governance on the Qwaqwa campus, the process was facilitated by an internationally acclaimed consultant. Again the contents of the revised governance model will be made known to the campus and the broader community once it is approved.

I am glad to report that in recognition of the need to improve the infrastructure on campus to provide a conducive learning atmosphere to our students, a total of 8.2 million rands was made available towards the end of 2004 for recapitalization of specifically our student residences and lecture venues. The first phase of the residence renovation is completed and residences C, D and E have now been officially handed over to the University by the Contractor. Among the features of the renovated residences is that they will now computer rooms, kitchenettes for cooking, and a redesigned TV room. The rooms have even been fitted with heaters. Our challenge will now be to maintain our newly acquired facilities and to ensure that they do not again deteriorate to an un-acceptable level. The second phase of renovation will start soon.

As indicated in my address during the orientation week, our obligation to you as a campus is to offer you quality training to the best of our ability, and to disseminate this knowledge to you within a conducive atmosphere worthy of good learning. On the other hand, our students have to take advantage of this opportunity to acquire the necessary skills and training in the various academic programs that we offer on campus.

We have a very simple agenda on this campus – our vision is to continuously strive to build and develop the Qwaqwa campus of University of the Free State into a truly quality institution of higher learning in our country. To develop a tradition and culture in which we are proud of who we are, and constantly and tirelessly working towards excellence in our academic programs, and other non-academic but core and important aspects in your growth and development such as sport and community service. To nurture young conscientious citizens who are aware of their duties and responsibilities. Ultimately to produce hard working young people who fully exploit their potentials, and who will serve this country with diligence when unleashed into the real world in effectively managing their roles and responsibilities in society, whether in private or government civil service.

I would like to encourage that the various stake holders of this campus, the students, academic, administrative and support staff, and our broader community, to work together in harmony for the well being of our campus. For this campus to continue to be relevant in the environment that we find ourselves, there is a need for continuous engagement of its various stake holders, and genuinely listening to each other. We must continuously and regularly keep our feelers on alert in order that we can remain relevant.

I am particularly inviting our parents and guardians, the alumni of this campus, and leaders from our community to join hands with us in seeking solutions to the various challenges that we continue to face on campus. I am open for frank and honest discourse on the best way forward for our campus.

The University of the Free State is committed in making tertiary education accessible to as many students as possible. In this regard, students who do not have the required ‘M’ score to gain entry into main stream classes are given an opportunity to study in the highly successful ‘bridging program’ in which learners are integrated with main stream students but with fewer courses to tackle in order to ensure success. This is done on the premise that such students have the potential to pursue a degree course, and that therefore within a well structured program, they can make a success of their lives.

The University is conscious of the fact that in many instances several academically deserving students fail to be admitted into university due to financial reasons. For students who are academically deserving but who because of reasons of poverty cannot pay the requisite fees, the university is able to assist such students through the National Financial Aid Scheme – commonly known as NSFAS, and University Merit Awards. Other incentives such as Sports bursaries are also available.

Please remember that it is important to balance your life on campus and the phrase ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’ aptly describes this statement. Ensure that you participate in sport and cultural activities of this campus so that you can develop and strengthen the various God-given talents that you have been blessed with.

A second major ingredient for your success on campus is discipline and respect for rules, policies and procedures that govern the University of the Free State , and respect for your fellow students. Good discipline is a major contributory factor to success in life, and more so in your formative academic life at University. This means for example that you must attend all your lectures, complete your assignments on-time and visit the library frequently. Please manage your time wisely and responsibly. Remember that as a university student, you are basically the master and architect of your own destiny.

Think very carefully when you are confronted with difficult situations, be they negative peer pressure, or temptations to indulge in intoxicating drugs, and make the right choice.

The University has well trained personnel including a social worker, a psychologist and counselor, and members of the student affairs division under the leadership of Mr. Teboho Manchu, Deputy Director Student Affairs, who are available to assist whenever you require their help.

Today is also a special day because we have officially inaugurated the SRC President and the rest of the SRC leadership. I am sure that you all join me in congratulating the SRC for being elected to their leadership roles for 2005. Mr. SRC president and your team, please remember that you now have a huge responsibility in carrying out the aspirations of the student body on campus. I want to wish you luck and success as you champion the rights of your constituents, which I believe and trust will be compatible with management’s expectations with regard to quality teaching and learning on campus. As you are aware, Management values the input that the student leadership makes in the operational management of the affairs of this campus, and we look forward to a cordial, non-confrontational working relationship with a view of rendering un-paralleled service on campus.

Mr. Program Director, allow me to wish everyone here a successful and prosperous year. May the good Lord give us the strength and courage to overcome any obstacle that may be placed in our way in the course of our work in 2005.

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