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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 mourns the death of valued Member of Council
2015-05-15

Father Patrick Towe

The senior leadership of the University of the Free State (UFS) is deeply saddened by the passing away of Father Patrick Towe on Wednesday 6 May 2015, following a period of illness. Father Towe served as Chairperson of the university’s Campus Ministries Forum (CMF) for several years, and had been its representative on the UFS Council since 2006.

“Father Towe was an extremely valuable member of the UFS Council. His insight into and knowledge of university business always contributed greatly to the spirit in which the deliberations of Council took place. He will be dearly missed. Our deepest condolences go to his family, friends, the students of ACTS, as well as the congregation in Heidedal, which he served,” said Judge Ian van der Merwe, Chairperson of the UFS Council.

“I remember Father Towe fondly for his pastoral availability to staff and students during moments of crisis from the time of the Reitz incident to those times in which we lost precious student lives. He would call us to prayer and consolation, and for these gifts from Father Towe I am deeply, deeply grateful,” said Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the UFS.

Father Towe, OMI (Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate) represented the Association of Catholic Tertiary Students (ACTS) on the Campus Ministries Forum. As Student Chaplain, he served the university student body through the Catholic Christian Ministry, providing spiritual guidance and support. He took up campus ministry in Bloemfontein in November 2002, and developed a quasi-parish within the student communities on campus.

He received his education in the United Kingdom where he was ordained in 1975. Throughout his career, Father Towe had a special involvement with community development and youth work. He worked as the Roman Catholic Chaplain at the University of Southampton from 1996 to 1998, providing pastoral care to both students and staff of the university. He served as Parish Priest of Christ the King in Heidedal, Bloemfontein.

“Father Towe was instrumental in reviving the CMF, and getting many more churches on campus involved. He had a heart for seeing churches with different backgrounds and focuses unite in making a difference at the university. He was a true gentleman, and was willing to listen to and negotiate with people, without compromising his values. He also did great work among the people of Heidedal towards the end of his life, and we will miss his presence on the CMF”, said Pastor Alistair Kingwill, current Chairperson of the CMF.

 

Media Release
Lacea Loader
Director: Communication and Brand Management
Tel: +27(0)51 401 2584
E-mail: news@ufs.ac.za

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