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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

2015 First-years: this is how Kovsies will welcome you
2014-11-20

The UFS can hardly wait to welcome you into our family! Wondering about when, where and how? Read on and find out all you need to know... 

The official welcoming of the 2015 first-years will take place on Friday 16 January 2015 at 18:00 in front of the Main Building on the Bloemfontein Campus.

The welcoming of 2015 first-years by the various faculties will take place from 09:00 on Saturday 17 January 2015 at the different faculties.

•    Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences in the EMS Auditorium
•    Faculty of Education in the New Education Building
•    Faculty of Health Sciences in the Kovsie Church
•    Faculty of the Humanities in the Odeion
     Session 1 - 09:00 ; Session 2 - 11:00
•    Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences in the Wynand Mouton theatre
•    Biological groups in the Wynand Mouton theatre
•    Agricultural programmes in the Agriculture Building, LG 1, 2 en 3
•    Consumer Sciences in the Agriculture Building, LG 4
•    Physics and Chemistry in the Chemistry Building, CEM 108
•    Information Technology in WWG 114
•    Mathematics and Applied Mathematics in WWG 226
•    Mathematical Statistics and Actuarial Sciences in the West Block, W111
•    Geography in GEO 1,5
•    Geology in the Main Lecture Hall 1
•    Architecture in the Architecture Building
•    Faculty of Law in the CR Swart Auditorium
•    Faculty of Theology in the H van der Merwe Scholtz Hall 10 (HMS 10)

An information centre will be available at the parking area in front of the Red Square.

Also, the Campus Ministries Forum will be welcoming first-years during an inter denominational church service on Sunday 18 January 2015 from 09:00-11:00 at the Kovsie Church. Everyone is welcome to attend this.  
 
2 February 2015:  lectures start

More information for 2015 first-year students

 

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