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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

Medical screening tests can help detect health risks at an early stage
2013-09-09

09 September 2013

It is once again time for the annual medical screening tests done by the Centre for Health and Wellness, which helps staff at the University of the Free State to watch their health.

All staff members are invited to participate and to find out how healthy they really are.

Dr Anette Prins, Deputy Director of the Centre for Health and Wellness, says their aim this year is to get every staff member to go for a checkup.

“For this reason, the tests will be done on different days and in different buildings. In this way, we take the test to the staff and they don’t have to come to a particular point as was done in the past.”
According to Discovery Health’s Healthy Company Index for 2013, in which the UFS also participated, about half of South African employees suffer from four or more health risk factors (blood pressure, obesity). The worst is that almost 70% of employees in this group believe that they are both fit and healthy. Fifty-three percent of those employees do not go for the essential preventative health checkups.

However, this picture may change as a result of the annual medical screening tests for staff of the UFS, because risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and high blood sugar levels can be detected at an early stage.

The tests take about 30 minutes per person and include a physical test, as well as an electronic questionnaire. The entire process is very confidential.

This year there are also prizes up for grabs, such as a Nexa Polaris 7.0 tablet and travel bags, during each session.

TIME

Monday
9 September

Tuesday
10 September

Wednesday
11 September

Thursday
12 September

Friday
13 September

09:00 – 12:00 Winkie Direko Building, K139 Agriculture Building, Lecture Hall B and C Physical Resources Hall

Stef Coetzee Building,Committee Room

Agriculture Building, K8
12:00 – 15:30 Flippie Groenewoud Building, Lapa
  • Flippie Groenewoud Building K110
  • 12:00 - 14:00 Main Building K16
George du Toit Building, Large Committee Room (3rd floor)

Francois Retief Building, Reception area

Sasol Library, K 433

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