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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

Three receive PhD degrees in Architecture at Winter Graduation ceremony
2015-07-08

Dr Hendrik Auret, Dr Gerhard Bosman and Dr Madelein Stoffberg.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

Three graduates from the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Department of Architecture received their PhD degrees at the 2015 Winter Graduation ceremony on the Bloemfontein Campus. According to Prof Walter Peters from Architecture, this is the first time in the history of the UFS that three PhD degrees in Architecture have been awarded simultaneously. It is country-wide a rare occurrence for three PhDs to be awarded in Architecture at one graduation ceremony.

“Previously, the UFS has only ever awarded a single PhD in Architecture, and that was in 1987, to Leon Roodt, a former head of the department. The first UFS honorary doctorate in Architecture was conferred on Gerard Moerdijk, architect of the Afrikaner church and the Voortrekker Monument. Gawie Fagan and Prof Bannie Britz, late head of the Department of Architecture, were other recipients of an honorary doctorate in Architecture,” said Prof Peters.

At the 2015 Winter Graduation ceremony, the UFS conferred PhDs in Architecture on Hendrik Auret from Roodt Architects in Bloemfontein as well as on Gerhard Bosman, and Madelein Stoffberg from the UFS Department of Architecture.

Dr Hendrik Auret

As an Architecture student at the university, Dr Auret obtained the degree BArchStud in 2004, a BArchStud (Hons) in 2005, and a March (Prof) in 2006, all cum laude. His Master’s design dissertation was judged the best from all South African Architecture learning sites, earning him the coveted ‘Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year’ award.

The work of the Norwegian architect and theorist, Christian Norberg-Schulz, served as the basis of Dr Auret’s PhD thesis, Care, place and architecture: a critical reading of Christian Norberg-Schulz’s architectural interpretation of Martin Heidegger’s philosophy, which considered the cogency of Norberg-Schulz’s architectural ‘translation’ of the German philosopher Heidegger’s thinking.

Dr Gerhard Bosman

On obtaining his BArchStud. and BArch degrees at the university in 1993 and 1995 respectively, Dr Bosman immediately joined the part-time staff of the Department of Architecture. As a lecturer in Building Construction, he developed an interest in vernacular and indigenous methods and techniques. Consequently, he built the first family home in Bloemfontein, for his wife, Debbie, and their two children, of earth construction, which been previously but erroneously considered inferior.

Despite that negative perception, Dr Bosman persuade the university to allow him to undertake post-graduate studies at the International Center for Earth Architecture (CRATerre-ENSAG) within the Ecole d' Architecture de Grenoble, France, from which institution,he was awarded the DPEA-Architecture de Terre qualification in 2000. In 2001,Dr Bosman was appointed to the full-time staff.

In 2003, when the opportunity arose, he became involved with SANPAD, the South Africa-Netherlands Research Project on Alternatives in Development, which lead ultimately to his PhD thesis: The acceptability of earth-constructed houses in central areas of South Africa.

Dr Madelein Stoffberg

In 2005, Dr Stoffberg enrolled as an Architecture student at the UFS, obtaining her BArchStud degree in 2007, the BArchStud (Hons) in 2008 and the March (Prof) in 2009, the latter cum laude. Immediately on graduating, Dr Stoffberg was appointed to her position as a part-time junior lecturer in the Department of Architecture.

During her studies, her attention was drawn to the concept of the spatial triad of Henri Lefebvre. Fascinated with the conceptand by the development of community centres as a contemporary architectural typology, she began her PhD degree.  

Entitled Lived reality, perception and architecture: two community centres interrogated through the lens of Lefebvre’s spatial triad, Dr Stoffberg investigated the relationship between the spatial understanding of the project architect and the community of two completed buildings in Port Elizabeth. She established a mismatch in perception, representation, and use of space, which could be bridged, however, by way of a qualitative research approach, instead of a quantitative one.


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