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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 provides an alternative route to a BEng degree
2014-06-04

Mr Louis Lagrange
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

The university is very excited about the establishment of a new study field at Kovsies – a BSc degree with majors in Physics and Engineering subjects. The course is presented in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences on the Bloemfontein Campus.

Project EnSci was established at the UFS at the beginning of 2014. Twelve first-years and four second-years enrolled for the course this year.

“We replace the non-core Physics subjects with Engineering subjects. We also present all specialist Engineering subjects ourselves,” says Louis Lagrange, project manager of Projec EnSci – Engineering Science.

“There isn’t enough space at universities in South Africa to accommodate all students who are interested in engineering. The UFS course can thus be considered a fundamental engineering course. It equips a student in such a way that they will be able to specialise in various disciplines,” he says.

After completion of the three-year BSc degree at the UFS, students may choose to:

• graduate with a BSc degree majoring in Physics and Engineering subjects and enter the professional world.
• study further for an honours, master’s or doctoral degree in Physics.
• apply to register for a second degree – BEng or BScEng (for two additional years) at another university recognising the BSc degree with majors in Physics and Engineering Science. Acceptance is subject to certain requirements.

Matriculants interested in this field, must follow the application procedure of the UFS before 30 September 2014 and achieve the following in the final NSC or equivalent examination:

• an AP score of 34 or more is strongly recommended,
• cumulative AP score of 13 or more in Mathematics and Physical Science,
• completion of NBT tests and
• language of instruction – 4 or more.

These prospective students also need to complete and submit an application form. For more information contact us at engineeringsubjects@ufs.ac.za


 

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