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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

Walk to Cape Town closes on high note
2014-06-03

Photo Gallery of arrival in Cape Town
Dagbreek interview (kykNet) (YouTube)
Thank you from all UFS students (YouTube)

It was a gruelling road totalling a distance of 1 038 km, but the UFS #NSHstride team completed the challenge of walking all the way to Cape Town.

On Thursday 1 May 2014, Adéle van Aswegen and Ntokozo Nkabinde, both from the UFS, took on the road to Cape Town on foot in order to highlight the problem of food insecurity among students at the UFS.

Two kind-hearted Bloemfontein residents, Nico Piedt and Ronél Warner, tackled the journey together with them, not only to draw the country’s attention to food insecurity, but also to raise money to address the problem.

The hike, known as the No Student Hungry 1000/33 stride (or #NSHstride), came to an end at the St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town on Tuesday 3 June 2014.

About R500 000 were raised before, during and after the foursome’s hike.

The NSH bursary, established in 2011 by Prof Jonathan Jansen, the Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the UFS, and Rudi Buys, Dean of Student Affairs, aims to put food insecurity among students at the UFS under the spotlight.

Rudi Buys, Dean of Student Affairs, says: “We are completely inspired by the victory of a 1 000 km with one step at a time – as it reminds us of the courage of our students who beat hunger one day at a time.”

“The stride team challenges us to change our world for the better every day. We hope to continue their victory for students by challenging all universities to join the struggle for food security and will call a colloquium in this regard in October.”

These boots are made for walking ... to Cape Town (Article of 02 May 2014)
“Aren’t auntie and them hungry yet?” Country folk worried about NSH hikers (15 May 2014)
UFS hikers to Cape Town reflect on their journey (Article of 26 May 2014)

Daily updates:
(You can also follow us on @UFSweb for daily tweets)

Day 33: 2 June 2014
13:40
20 km
Sunset Beach, Cape Town

Day 32: 1 June 2014
16:05
26 km
Mervyn and Sanet Wessels, Belville

Day 31: 31 May 2014
16:31
39.6 km
Rhonell and Gavin Julain, Paarl

Day 30: 30 May 2014
14:00
16 km
Monte Rosa, Rawsonville

Day 29: 29 May 2014
13:16
31 km
The Habit, Worcester

Day 28: 28 May 2014
11:00
22.4 km
Monte Roza, De doorns

Day 27: 27 May 2014
17:00
21.1 km
Karoo Hotel

Day 26: 26 May 2014
18:27
43.3 km
Tows river

Day 25: 25 May 2014
12:18
Lord Milner Hotel, Matjiesfontein

Day 24: 24 May 2014
16:30
42 km
Laingsburg Country Lodge

Day 23: 23 May 2014
17:32
41.8 km
Vergenoeg

Day 22: 22 May 2014
16:42
43 km
Assendelft Lodge and Bush Camp, Prins Albert

Day 21: 21 May 2014
15:09
42 km
Leeu Gamka Hotel

Day 20: 20 May 2014
13:39
20 km
Alida, Springfontein

Day 19: 19 May 2014
12:31
27.6 km
Teri Moja Game Lodge

Day 18: 18 May 2014
First rest day
Nagenoeg Guesthouse, Beaufort West

Day 17: 17 May 2014
19:30
62.3 km
Nagenoeg Guesthouse, Beaufort West

Day 16: 16 May 2014
13:00
14 km
Taaibochfontein

Day 15: 15 May 2014
16:03
32 km
Travalia, Three Sisters

Day 14: 14 May 2014
18:33
43 km
Joalani Guest Farm

Day 13: 13 May 2014
17:30
33 km
Die Rondawels

Day 12: 12 May 2014
16:49
40 km
Aandrus B&B in Richmond

Day 11: 11 May 2014
39 km
Wortelfontein (Magdel and Christiaan)

Day 10: 10 May 2014
15:44
34 km
Hanover Lodge

Day 9: 09 May 2014
40.8 km
Camping between Colesberg and Hanover

Day 8: 08 May 2014
15:25
33.7 km
Colesberg, The Lighthouse Guesthouse

Day 7: 07 May 2014
15:08
23 km
Orange River Lodge

Day 6: 06 May 2014
15:57
51.06 km
Gariep Forever Resort

Day 5: 05 May 2014
12:18
28 km
Rondefontein

Day 4: 04 May 2014
15:27
35 km
Trompsburg: Fox Den

Day 3: 03 May 2014
17:30
46.74 km
Edenburg Country Lodge (Hotel)

Day 2: 02 May 2014
11:44 am
15.3 km
Tom's Place

Day 1: 01 May 2014
32 km
Leeuwberg

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