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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

Spring graduation ceremony
2006-09-15

A three-year old boy from Welkom, Kearabetswe Mokoena, stole the show at the spring graduation ceremony of the University of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein. He was dressed in an exact replica of the academic outfit worn by his father, Mr Ketseletso Mokoena, who obtained his LLB degree from the UFS. The outfit was made by Kearabetswe’s mother Mrs Ennie Mokoena. From the left are Mr Mokoena, his son Kearabetswe, and Prof Frederick Fourie, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS.
Photo:  Lacea Loader

 

Prof Mos Thulare (acting Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the Central University of Technology) obtained his LL.B. degree during the spring graduation ceremony of the University of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein.  On the photo, he is congratulated by Prof Frederick Fourie (Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS).
Photo:  Stephen Collett

 

Altogether five master's degrees in Physics were awarded during the University of the Free State's (UFS) spring graduation ceremony in Bloemfontein.  It is the biggest group of master's degrees in the history of the UFS Department of Physics awarded during a graduation ceremony.  From the left are:  Richard Harris, Puleng Ramoshebi, Prof Hendrik Swart (Head of the UFS Department of Physics), Lisa Coetsee and Etienne Wurth.  One of the students, Gerhard Olivier, was absent when the photo was taken.
Photo: Lacea Loader
 

Altogether 29 doctorates were awarded during the University of the Free State's (UFS) spring graduation ceremony in Bloemfontein.  Some of the doctorandi are from the left:  Drs Nicholas Mtshali (Chemistry),  Candice Jansen van Rensburg (Zoology), Ina Claassens (Physics),  Martin Ntwaeaborwa (Physics) and Vicki Tolmay (Plant Breeding).
Photo:  Lacea Loader
 

A great number of students from Africa were among the 29 students who received their doctorates during the University of the Free State's (UFS) spring graduation ceremony in Bloemfontein.  From the left are:   Drs Amaha Kassahun (Grassland Science) and Tolessa Debele (Soil Science), both are from Ethiopia.
 

A number of doctorates were awarded to students across the world during the University of the Free State's (UFS) spring graduation ceremony held in Bloemfontein.  From the left are:  Drs Eli Kohn (from  Israel who received a doctorate in Near Eastern Studies), Prof Philip Nel (UFS Department of Afro-asiatic.  Studies, Sign Language and Language Practice), Prof Annette Wilkinson (Centre for Higher Education Studies and Development at the UFS) and Dr Padmanabhan Nair (from India who received a doctorate in Higher Education Studies).  Prof Nel was Dr Kohn's co-promoter and Prof Wilkinson was Dr Nair's promoter.
Photo:  Stephen Collett

 

 

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