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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 acts fast in expelling students for serious misconduct
2014-02-22

On the evening of Monday 17 February 2014, Muzi Gwebu, a fifth-year student in BCom Economics, while walking on the Bloemfontein Campus of the UFS, was side-swiped by a vehicle driving recklessly through campus. He followed the vehicle where it stopped at one of the residences and approached the two occupants. A confrontation started and he was assaulted by one of the occupants of the vehicle.

Gwebu sustained minor injuries and was immediately assisted by the university’s residence life division. He lodged a complaint of assault at the South African Police Service (SAPS).

The senior leadership of the UFS is shocked and outraged at this blatant act of violence against one of its students. The Vice-Chancellor and Rector, Prof Jonathan Jansen, says: “We regard this incident in a very serious light and we worked closely with the SAPS throughout the night to identify and locate the perpetrators who were driving with false number plates.”

With the assistance of the student leadership in one of the residences, the owner of the vehicle and his companion were traced this morning.

The two students were immediately handed to SAPS by the university’s Protection Services and were arrested on charges of attempted murder, assault and driving with false number plates.

In addition to the criminal investigation by the SAPS, the university is also conducting an urgent and formal investigation into the incident.

The university has offered Gwebu full counselling and support until he is fully recovered.

“It is sad and disappointing that, after so much progress with the social transformation of the UFS, such a horrific incident could have occurred. It is pleasing, however, that across the board, all our students condemned these vicious acts. The students, if found guilty in the criminal and institutional investigations, will definitely not be allowed to study at the University of the Free State,” he said.

END

Statement by Dr Willy Nel, Residence Head of Armentum men’s residence

The Residence Head, Residence Committee and all residents of Armentum male residence on the Bloemfontein Campus unequivocally distance themselves from any behaviour which does not breathe the letter and spirit of the University of the Free State's vision of Human Embrace and Academic Excellence. We work tirelessly to upend traditions that are contradicting this vision. Therefore we add our voice to those who condemn the incident in which ex-residents allegedly assaulted a pedestrian who is also a student of our institution. We express our support to and confidence in the university's and other processes to find justice in this matter.

Dr Willy Nel
Residence Head: Armentum



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E-mail: news@ufs.ac.za

 

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