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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 receives several awards for communication projects
2014-11-26

Staff from the Department of Communication and Brand Management received five awards at MACE 2014. From the left are: Leonie Bolleurs (Excellence awards for the Internet Broadcast Project and the B Safe safety campaign), Lacea Loader, Director of the Department of Communication and Brand Management, Lelanie de Wet (Excellence award for the #FaceOfFacebook social media campaign and Merit award for the Redesign of the UFS website) and René-Jean van der Berg (Merit award for the No Student Hungry media campaign).
Photo: Hannes Pieterse

The Department of Communication and Brand Management at the University of the Free State (UFS) received several national and international awards for communication campaigns and projects this year.

On international level, an audit of the university’s stakeholders received the Jake Wittmer award for research in communication from the International Association of Business Communicators

(IABC), a merit award in the category communication and research management from the IABC, a 2014 IABC Africa Gold Quill award and a bronze medal from the International Business Association (IBA). Furthermore, the audit was a finalist in the Golden World awards (GWA) of the International Public Relations Association (IPRA). The Bult magazine also received a bronze medal from the IBA.

Staff from the department also walked away with five awards at this year’s Marketing, Advancement and Communication in Education (MACE) Excellence awards, which formed part of the annual MACE congress held at Sun City from 13-15 November 2014. Some 185 communication, marketing and institutional advancement practitioners from across South Africa attended the event.

Lacea Loader, Director of the Department of Communication and Brand Management, says: “The national and international recognition from our peers in higher education, as well as from the industry, is of exceptional value to us and I am delighted that the standard of our projects and campaigns could be benchmarked in this way.”

The UFS received awards from MACE for excellence in:

- Internet Broadcast Project (category: audiovisual)
- #FaceOfFacebook social media campaign (category: social media)
-  B Safe safety campaign (category: integrated campaigns)

Merit awards were presented to:

- Redesign of the UFS website (category: electronic media)
- No Student Hungry media campaign (category: media)

Mace fulfils a leadership role in the Higher Education (HE) and Further Education and Training (FET) sectors within Southern Africa by adding value to practitioners in marketing, communication and advancement through high-quality development programmes, facilitating networking partnerships and transformation, as well as promoting best practices among these professions at member institutions.

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