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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 offers bursaries for interpreters
2005-12-01

The Unit for Language Management (previously Unit for Language Facilitation and Empowerment) at the University of the Free State (UFS) is offering bursaries to persons who want to apply for the Post-graduate Diploma in Language Practice (interpreting) for 2006. 

The Unit was involved in the setting up of a comprehensive interpreting infrastructure at the Free State Legislature and provided the interpreting services for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for the latter’s full duration.

“The UFS supports a multilingual society.  Our language policy, which was approved by the Council in 2003, is a striking example.  This policy is in accordance with the national movement towards multilingualism and the recognition of language rights.  Through the training of interpreters the UFS is empowering others to exercise their language rights and to partake meaningfully in formal conversations,“ said Prof Theo du Plessis, head of the UFS Unit for Language Management (ULM). 

“The UFS has been using interpreter services at executive management meetings and other occasions such as meetings, seminars and conferences for several years.  The demand for these services has risen quite considerably.  We have found that the current three interpreters on the Main Campus will soon not be able to cope with this demand,” said Prof du Plessis.

According to Prof du Plessis institutions like the Mangaung Local Municipality and the Motheo District Municipality use the interpreter services of the ULM on a regular basis. 
“Because the demand for interpreter services is becoming so great, the demand for trained interpreters is also increasing.  This is why we are offering bursaries for persons who want to be trained as interpreters to register in 2006 for the Post-graduate Diploma in Language Practice (interpreting) as offered by the UFS Department of Afro-asiatic Studies and Language Practice and Sign Language,” said Prof du Plessis.

According to Prof du Plessis the UFS will be able to use these students on an ad-hoc basis to assist with interpreter services on the Main Campus or to deliver interpreter services to institutions outside the UFS. 

The bursaries will preferably be awarded to persons with English as mother tongue with an above average knowledge of Afrikaans or Sesotho.  The duration of the bursaries is one year and only tuition fees will be paid.  “To qualify for the bursaries, prospective students must have an undergraduate qualification,” said Prof du Plessis.

The closing date for applications is 25 January 2006.  For any enquiries, Mrs Susan Lombaard can be contacted at (051) 401-2405 or 072 605 4966 during office hours or at lombasc.hum@mail.uovs.ac.za.

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

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