Latest News Archive

Please select Category, Year, and then Month to display items
Years
2017 2018 2019 2020
Previous Archive
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

Goodwill and unity reigns supreme at official opening
2014-02-07

Video
Transcription: Prof Jonathan Jansen speech

The academic year at the UFS was officially opened by Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector, at a splendid event with staff at the Bloemfontein Campus. “The UFS is no longer the place it was four years ago. When I arrived here, the place was very much divided. The picture is very different today. Staff and students have come together and are spending time together as friends. A new spirit reigns at the university. People are no longer mad at each other; they talk to each other,” Prof Jansen said.

The reason: students know that they are loved and respected. The people responsible for this – the staff.

Prof Jansen particularly emphasised the capacity of staff members to change and to care. “Change at the UFS is possible because of the positive attitude of staff and students. This creates an atmosphere where students can learn to love and forgive.

“We have reached a new consensus where racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia are wrong. We also address this bad behaviour immediately.

“Another highlight at the UFS is the changes in the academy. Debate is deeper and more progressive. We have the best intellectual debates at the UFS. We are also proud of our young researchers in the Prestige Scholars Programme. We are excited, because in five years’ time we will reap the fruits from the efforts of young, as well as older researchers who have worked hard so that we can deliver the best researchers.

“There is another shift in the academic culture on campus with our students increasingly looking academically stronger.

“Besides the capacity of staff to change, they also have a capacity for caring. Projects such as the Staff Fund and the No Student Hungry Programme is doing well, with the NSH Programme raising more than R1 million to feed hungry students,” Prof Jansen said.

At this event, Prof Jansen also gave recognition to the team involved with and working very hard at the Schools Change Project, which is largely responsible for the Free State’s good matric results. With the inspiration of the staff involved with this project, a difference is made to schools in the Free State.

“Our staff members do more than is stipulated in their contracts. Our staff members do their jobs from the heart,” Prof Jansen said.

We use cookies to make interactions with our websites and services easy and meaningful. To better understand how they are used, read more about the UFS cookie policy. By continuing to use this site you are giving us your consent to do this.

Accept