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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

First-year students encouraged to attend UFS welcoming function
2006-01-12

The University of the Free State (UFS) will host a welcoming function for all new first-year students and their parents on Saturday 14 January 2006 in the Callie Human Centre on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein.

The function starts at 11:00 and will be addressed by the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, Prof Frederick Fourie. UFS staff will also be available to provide vital information to first-year students on academic matters.

According to Mr Vernon Collett, Registrar: Academic Student Services at the UFS, Saturday’s welcoming function can assist students and parents by providing vital information on the many high quality academic learning programmes on offer at the UFS in six faculties.

“If students and parents have this information it will make the registration process, which starts next week Tuesday 17 January 2006, much smoother,” Mr Collett said.

The UFS has split the registration process into various categories of students and Mr Collett appealed to all students to adhere to the dates and times which apply to them as a one-stop service will be available so as to avoid unnecessary delays in the registration process.

The registration of first-time entering first-year students who applied before 30 November 2005 to study at the Bloemfontein Campus will take place from Tuesday 17 January 2006 at the Callie Human Centre.

Senior undergraduate students (that is, students entering their second or later year of study) may register from 23 January 2006.

Postgraduate students, first-time entering first-year students and other students who applied for admission to the main campus after 30 November 2005 must register at the Callie Human from 2 February 2006. 

Late applications will be accepted until Wednesday 25 January 2006 at the Information Centre on the Main Campus’ Thakaneng Bridge. These applications will be regarded as pending and will be processed as places become available on the programme the student has applied for,” said Mr Collett. 

Vista Campus:
The Vista Campus in Bloemfontein – which was incorporated into the UFS in January 2004 – no longer accepts applications from first-year students. Such prospective students had to apply to the UFS Main Campus. Students who had been registered on the Vista campus last year must register at the Vista Campus on the same dates as applicable on the Main Campus.

Qwaqwa Campus:
At the Qwaqwa Campus of the UFS, all first-time entering first-year students must report on Thursday 19 January 2006, after which the registration of these students will take place according to a specific programme. The official welcoming functioning for new first-years at the Qwaqwa campus of the UFS will take place on Saturday 11 February 2006 at 08:00 in the Rolihlahla Mandela Hall on the Qwaqwa Campus.

Mr Collett appealed to first-year students who have applied to study at the Qwaqwa Campus and their parents to attend this function which fulfils the same role as the one held on the Bloemfontein Main Campus.

Detailed information on the dates and times of registration for the various faculties and academic learning programmes is available on the UFS website at www.uovs.ac.za. Prospective students may also call the Main Campus in Bloemfontein on (051) 401-3000 or the Qwaqwa Campus on (058) 718-5000 for more information.

Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel: (051) 401-2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za
10 January 2006

 

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