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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

Environmental management – the answer to a sustainable green economy
2014-11-03



From the left are: Tshepo Moremi (Deputy Director-General), Mamotena Puleni (Personal Assistant to the Deputy Director-General) and Prof Maitland Seaman (Head of Department: Centre for Environmental Management).

Photo: Ifa Tshishonge

As part of celebrating 20 years of existence, the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State (UFS) hosted a public lecture themed, ‘The Future of Environmental Management’. Mr Tshepo Moremi, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (Free State), portfolio Environment, Conservation and Tourism, delivered this lecture.

Mr Moremi said, “The environmental performance of South Africa must be seen in the context of our history and the country’s transition. South Africa has taken the lead in being a responsible global citizen, and we also participate in international projects in this field.”

South Africa hosts one of the richest biodiversities in the world. However, the country’s economy is still very energy - and carbon intensive.

“According to the World Health Organisation, approximately 16% of all deaths and one-third of diseases in children under the age of five years are environmentally related. Inadequate sanitation and indoor pollution are key factors,” Mr Moremi said.

“Academic institutions like the UFS and the government need to take the role of equipping citizens with skills and training so that we can overcome the challenges and seize opportunities related to the environment.

“Financing mechanisms for projects related to environmental sustainability were introduced in 2011. However, we still lack skilled capacity to run these projects smoothly and to use international and national funding strategically.

“Looking forward and responding to our challenges, it is vital that we transform our economy to be an international competitor and job-creation hub, and to be sustainably climate resilient, as outlined by the National Development Plan. Minimum standards will also be put in place to regulate emissions and monitor air quality. The sustainability of society’s well-being is important to the long-term role of environmental management in boosting our socio-economic status as a nation,” Mr Moremi said.

He emphasised that it must not only be about conserving and preserving. “Our people should benefit economically and socially,” he said.

Mr Moremi encouraged the audience to defend ideas that protect our non-speaking natural resources. “Let’s all do what we can and rise to this advocacy challenge,” he added. He also expressed his gratitude towards the university for honouring him during such a celebration and for working together in advocating for environmental issues.

The Centre for Environmental Management also hosted a strategic colloquium, discussing issues such as demography, resources, climate, water, environmental management, academic pursuance, as well as curriculum and the role of professional registration which may have an influence on the nature of its programmes.

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