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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 Communication and Brand Management receives two prestigious international awards
2015-07-07

Lelanie de Wet, Lacea Loader and Leonie Bolleurs

The Department of Communication and Brand Management at the University of the Free State (UFS) received two of the six Gold Quill Awards – that were awarded to South African companies and institutions - at the International Association of Business Communicator’s (IABC) Excellence Gala ceremony in San Francisco, US on 15 June 2015.

The awards ceremony formed part of the 2015 IABC World Conference, which took place from 14-17 June 2015. The department received a Gold Quill Excellence Award for its social media campaign, UFS #FaceOfFacebook and a Gold Quill Merit Award for the B Safe Take Action campaign.

From the 15 countries that entered, a total of 120 Gold Quill Excellence awards and 189 Gold Quill Merit awards were awarded. Other South African award winners included Barclays Africa Group Limited, Mediclinic and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

This is the second year in a row that the UFS has been recognised by the IABC for its communication projects. In 2014, the department was awarded the Jake Wittmer Research Award for a Stakeholder Perception Audit conducted in February 2014. The audit was considered – by the IABC - as one of the best breakthrough strategies used by a university to measure the perceptions of its stakeholders.This made the UFS the first tertiary institution in Africa to receive the research award. The stakeholder perception audit also received an Africa Gold Quill in 2014.

"Being recognised by a global association such as the IABC for the second time, is a great honour and I am very proud of what my colleagues have achieved by entering the two campaigns. Winning the awards is a true indication of what can be done when a team of expert communicators is committed towards engaging their target audiences with campaigns that speak of quality and innovation. The fact that the UFS is one of only two tertiary education institutions in the country to receive these prestigious awards, makes it even more special," said Lacea Loader, Director: Communication and Brand Management at the UFS.

IABC World and Africa conferences 2015 

The IABC is a global membership association with a network of 12 000 members in more than 80 countries, representing many of the Global Fortune 500 companies. It serves professionals in the field of business communication, bringing together the profession’s collective disciplines.

With the theme: Changing landscape: Informing the future, the 2015 world conference was attended by over 1 200 delegates from across the world. Delegates were offered an opportunity for learning, discovering, and connecting. Loader also made a presentation entitled ‘Award-winning measurement endorses sound reputation management strategy’ at the world conference.

The department will also be receiving two Africa Gold Quill Awards from the Africa chapter of the IABC for the same campaigns on 30 July 2015 in Johannesburg.

UFS #FaceOfFacebook Campaign

The university received a Gold Quill Excellence Award for its social media campaign, UFS #FaceOfFacebook. This initiative originated in the university’s commitment to its Human Project, which sets the standard for good behaviour and care.

Lelanie de Wet, Manager: Social Media and Website Content and project leader of UFS #FaceOfFacebook, said the project was born from the need to communicate with students. Thus a virtual friend, #FaceOfFacebook, was created. “Yearly auditions are being held to choose the new face representing the UFS on Facebook. Short video clips of the #FaceOfFacebook – whether it is attending events or communicating important messages - are posted on the UFS Facebook page. The successful candidate holds the title #FaceOfFacebook for 12 months.

“When I look at a campaign such as #FaceOfFacebook, from the time it took its first tentative steps in 2013, and see how it inspired staff and students alike, my heart swells with pride. Often you can see the impact you have made only in retrospect. The ripples you send into the world will inevitably create waves,” she said.

B Safe Take Action Campaign

The B Safe Take Action campaign of the university received a Gold Quill Merit award from the IABC.

The campaign was activated in September 2013. “It targeted on- and off-campus students and staff, aiming to create social ownership of personal safety, and to raise awareness of the safety measures put in place by the university,” said Leonie Bolleurs, Manager: Internal Communication and project manager of the campaign.

The campaign looked at a number of safety aspects, focusing not only on crime but also on being safe from road accidents and stress/burnout.

It is the second time this year that the BSafe campaign has been recognised for its innovative strategy. Earlier this year it received a PRISM Award (Gold) from the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa (PRISA). The annual PRISM Awards are about recognising and celebrating great public relations campaigns.

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