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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

Kovsies proud of a gold PRISM Award for safety campaign
2015-05-05

Stefan Lotter, Leonie Bolleurs and Lacea Loader. All three are from the Departement of Communication and Brand Management at the UFS.
Photo: Hannes Pieterse

The University of the Free State, takes pride in the gold PRISM Award (from the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa) for the B Safe Take Action safety campaign that has been rolled out on the campus since 2013 by the Department of Communication and Brand Management.

The campaign earned the Von H Brand Provocateur gold award in the internal communication category.

“The UFS is the only tertiary institution to receive a gold award. The award is a great honour for the department, considering the cream of South African public relations took part in the competition, and the standard was naturally very high. It was also a feather in the cap for us that the uniqueness of the campaign received national recognition from our peers in this manner, said Ms Lacea Loader, Director: Communication and Brand Management at the UFS.

The university is responsible for about 32 000 students and 4 000 members of staff on its three campuses: the Bloemfontein and South Campuses in Bloemfontein and the Qwaqwa Campus in the Eastern Free State. It is of cardinal importance for the university that its students, staff, and assets are safe.

Apart from safety measures that have been implemented by the UFS Protection Services, the B Safe Take Action campaign has also been rolled out on the three campuses of the UFS. The campaign supports the safety strategy of the university. It is aimed at developing a culture of safety awareness in students and staff alike. The purpose of the campaign is for staff and students to take ownership of their own safety. In addition, it creates awareness of the safety measures that are in place at the UFS.

The campaign has been rolled out on various communication platforms. These include placards, pamphlets, lamp-post advertisements, an advertisement board, emails, and messages on student communication portals such as Blackboard, the UFS web and intranet, social media, information boards in the campus parking areas and on the pedestrian walkways as well as messages on refuse bins around the campus. “The fact that a variety of communication platforms has been deployed, the striking design and character of the messages, and the number of target audiences that have been reached further contributed to the success of the campaign,” said Ms Loader,

The campaign also received a merit award from the International Association for Business Communication (IABC). The award will be presented on 15 June 2015 in San Francisco, USA.

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