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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

SA women’s Hockey players give a recount of Hockey World League
2015-07-02

Nicole Walraven and Liné Malan
Photo: Hatsu Mphatsoe

Three of the star players of Kovsies Hockey formed part of the South African Women’s Hockey team, which competed at the Hockey World League (HWL) tournament in Spain.

Hatsu Mphatsoe, student assistant at the Department of Communication and Brand Management, spoke to Nicole Walraven and Liné Malan. Tanya Britz will be returning only at a later stage to South Africa.

As key players in the Kovsies women’s team, Malan and Walraven (along with Britz) have a new wealth of knowledge that could assist the team in their forthcoming USSA tournament. Here are some of the sentiments they had to share:

What was your reaction when you first received the news that you’d be representing the country in Spain?

Liné: “It was a shock to me, I honestly didn’t expect it. At the same time, I was extremely excited to be granted the opportunity to represent my country, and prove my worth to the team.”

Nicole: “I was so excited and felt honoured! To represent my country at such a big tournament is amazing. I was very nervous, but excited.”

How has playing at an international level improved your personal performance and mentality of the game/sport?

Nicole: “Playing at such a high level has helped my hockey immensely. It has helped me read the game better, it has upped my self-confidence, and it has also improved my ability to deal with pressure.”

Liné: “Playing at an international level looks much easier than it is. It is a much faster game, the pressure on the ball is much higher, and the individual skills are on a different level. It has helped me to lift my game, and make decisions much quicker. It has honestly benefitted me as an individual, and I’ve learnt so much from the experience.”

Now that you’ll be going to play at the USSA tournament, what new perspectives do you wish to bring to the team in order to improve its overall performance there?

Nicole: “The importance of teamwork as well as adapting the game plan according to the situation and the opposition. Constant hard work and a never-give-up attitude are vital. One quote that stood out from the tournament is ‘1MT, 1MT’ which stands for ‘1 More Thing, 1 More Time’.

Liné: “Going to USSA, I now have a better understanding of what pressure is, and how to make better decisions. We will still make use of our Kovsies brand of Hockey, which is our passing game, and apply all aspects to the best of our ability.”

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