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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

Kovsie TV Launched
2015-05-06

Victor Ngubeni, Grace Thoabala, Nangamso Dlatu, Aisha Poswa, Lesego Maakamedi, Nothando Hlope, Aldene vd Merwe and Lawrence Siyoko

“We have to change our university before we can change our country.”

 

There is a revolution at hand, and students are requesting new and exciting platforms on which they can voice themselves. Kovsie TV aims to do just that for Kovsie students. 

 

As a student initiative, the steam behind it is SRC Student Development and Environmental Affairs, Victor Ngubeni. He says that it is only right that it be by the students themselves. The launch saw many from the campus community gathered out of curiosity and excitement for the new venture. The evening started out as quite a classy frenzy, which had attendees clearly prepared for the level of broadcasting that the launch would showcase.

 

The initial idea is to increase the number of platforms where students can receive information. The Student Media portfolio, which oversees the functioning of student media platforms, aims to make Kovsie TV as autonomous as possible. As an introductory initiative, it will aid in the sharing and telling of students’ stories.

 

It is important to mention the preparation process that was endured by the many hopefuls who auditioned, hoping to make it as one of the Kovsie TV presenters. For more than three weeks, the panel of judges sieved through the contestants until they had just six rough diamonds. Then, for the first time, the audience met the faces that they would become familiar with from this point.

 

As Ngubeni stressed during his speech, Kovsie TV would not serve as propaganda machine for the SRC, as many might have asked about the relationship that could be expected between the two. The architects of Kovsie TV hope that, as a student initiative, it will inspire a new era in student activism.

 

When asked about the concept behind this new platform, Ngubeni informed us that, “the concept is to have a twenty-minute campus TV show highlighting what goes on around campus so that students know, and so that we can get them participating in campus life activities.”

 

This is a student initiative whose future will depend solely on the students themselves.

 

Presenters:

Nangamso Dlathu – Studio presenter

Grace Thoabala – Studio presenter

Lesego Maakamedi – Social events

Nothando Hlophe – Current affairs

Aldine van der Merwe – Culture events and Vox-Pop

Mbulelo Siyoko – Culture and Vox-Pop

Aisha Phoswa ? Sports

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