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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

Prof Naomi Morgan knighted by French Government
2015-02-02

Prof Naomi Morgan

Prof Naomi Morgan, lecturer at the UFS Department of Afrikaans and Dutch; German and French, received the prestigious Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres award at the French Embassy in Pretoria on Monday 26 January 2015.

The Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) is an Order of France, established on 2 May 1957 by the Minister of Culture, and its supplementary status to the Ordre national du Mérite was confirmed by President Charles de Gaulle in 1963. Its purpose is the recognition of significant contributions to the arts, literature, or the propagation of these fields.

Prof Morgan is being recognised for her translation work of plays such as ‘Oskar en die Pienk Tannies’, as well as translations of Afrikaans songs to French for the popular Afri-Frans compilation. The fact that the French Government gives such a highly-acclaimed award in recognition to the ‘art of translation’ is even more of an overwhelming honour to her than the personal achievement in itself.

The Chevalier (the Knighting) awarded to Prof Morgan is the third highest grade in the Order.

Prof Morgan now joins world-renowned individuals such as William Kentridge and Johnny Clegg on the list of foreign luminaries who have received this honour. Only two Literature Professors from South Africa – JM Coetzee and André P Brink – received this award in the past. During 1992, Brink received a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and Coetzee was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

“I feel that an award like this is not only significant for me, but also to students who are busy with their studies and wondering: is there going to be recognition, what can one do with translation?” Prof Morgan said. “This is the biggest gift, the biggest gift anyone could ever give me. Now I ask for nothing more!”

For more information or enquiries contact news@ufs.ac.za .

 

 

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