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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 included in national team for 2015 World Cup in Australia
2015-06-30

Karla Mostert
Photo: Johan Roux

The success of netballers Adele Niemand (former Kovsie) and Karla Mostert (captain of the Kovsie netball team) continues - they represent Kovsies, the provincial Crinums, as well as the national SPAR Proteas as goal-keeper and goal defender, respectively. The UFS is also very proud of their inclusion in the national team for the upcoming 2015 World Cup in Australia.
 
On 6 June 2015, Niemand and Mostert played for the Free State Crinums, who overpowered the Gauteng Jaguars in the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League (NPL). This win secured the championship title for the Crinums for the second time in a row.
 
“Our aim was to improve with each game. We did this throughout the league. The final game against the Jaguars was definitely our best game, so we are very satisfied. The NPL prepared us and gave us game time, which I think, is great preparation for the Diamond Challenge,” said Mostert.
 
Niemand and Mostert represented South Africa at the Diamond Challenge in Margate from 14 to 18 June 2015.
 
Prior to the event, Burta de Kock, Head Coach of the university’s team, said, “The Diamond Challenge in Margate will be hard, because Zambia, Uganda and Malawi want to be the best in Africa. But SA has enough brilliant players to do the trick for us, and we also have a great leader as captain.”
 
Niemand and Mostert form part of the national squad selected for the upcoming 2015 World Cup in Australia. Kovsie Lauren-Lee Christians from the UFS is the only non-travelling substitute for the World Cup. In their group, the team will compete from 7 to 16 August 2015 against Malawi, Singapore and Sri Lanka.
 
For the upcoming games against the world’s best in Sydney, Niemand has set a personal goal, namely to be the best by playing every game as if it's her last, and in so doing, aims to maintain the high standard of the team.
 
Their coach’s words of encouragement for the World Cup are: “Just go out with passion and enjoy every second. Never forget you are our CHAMPS!!”
 
The SPAR Proteas have indeed proven to be champions by beating Zambië 63 - 38 in the opening match of the challenge on 16 June 2015 at the UGU Sports Centre. They continued to beat Malawi convincingly by 43 - 33, and thrashed Uganda with a score of 56 - 39 to maintain their unbeaten run. The Proteas managed to uphold their lead to the end and thereby secured the tournament trophy win a win of 40 - 35.  In the first two games against Zambia and Malawi, Mostert and Niemand was respectively Player of the Match.
 
The UFS is also proud of Maryka Holtzhausen, a former Kovsie now captaining the Proteas. Ilze du Pisanie, also a former Kovsie, is the conditioning coach for the Proteas.

 

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