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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

“Breakthroughs depend on people believing in their own ideas”
2015-07-23


TED is a renowned international non-profit organisation dedicated to disseminating “ideas worth spreading” in the form compelling talks lasting up to 18 minutes.

Lerothodi Molete’s vision is to witness the youth of Bloemfontein emerge at the forefront of technological, scientific, and entrepreneurial innovations in both South Africa and the global arena.

 

Molete and Bonginkosi Leeuw are the organisers of TEDxUFS. Their duty is centered on inspiring people to believe in, and express, their ideas. These University of the Free State students have taken it upon themselves to inspire the youth to “push the boundaries of society.”

 

The second TEDxUFS event to be hosted by the university presents a unique opportunity for students, staff members, and the general public to mingle with influential speakers from across various disciplines.

 

Details of the event:

 

Date: Saturday 1 August 2015

Time: 08:00- 18:00

Venue: Albert Wessels Auditorium, Bloemfontein Campus

 

The keynote speakers include: Mmusi Maimane (Federal Leader: Democratic Alliance), Gareth Cliff (Radio personality: Cliff Central), Pieter Geldenhuys (Futurist), Brian Kally (Director: Arrow Logistics), Jonathan Jansen (Vice-Chancellor and Rector: UFS), Ricardo Peach (Director: Vrystaat Arts Festival, Pamela Nomvete (Former actor and writer), Gil Oved (Founder: Creative Counsel), Pepe Marais (CEO: Joe Public), Angelo Mockie (Senior Officer: Student Affairs and musician), Philippa Tumubweinee (Senior Lecturer in Architecture: UFS), and Melody Mentz (Psychology Senior Professor: UFS).

 

The reason behind the #AskWhy theme

 

"Why is a small word but it’s a quick, broad, sharp and abrupt one,” explains Leeuw. “It is the chosen word of the non-conformist, the defiant, and the visionary. It is a confrontational word. It challenges what is thought to be impossible.”

 

The ability to interrogate reality is what society and economies are built on. The absence of the fear to question encourages the capacity to progress.

 

Motivating young people to follow their dreams is the reason why the TEDxUFS team is persistent in their endeavours. Molete believes that, in order to change anything, people need to ask why.

 

Background of the innovation powerhouse called TED(x)

 

TED is a renowned international non-profit organisation dedicated to disseminating “ideas worth spreading” in the form compelling talks lasting up to 18 minutes.

 

In 1984, it was introduced as a conference exploring Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Three decades later, TED covers a wide variety of topics of global significance, reflecting the contemporary era in more than 100 languages.

 

TEDx events are under the TED umbrella. These events are organised independently, and create a platform for deliberating on local matters. The programme assists communities, organisations, and individuals to stimulate critical dialogue.

 

On 25 July 2014, the UFS hosted its inaugural TEDxUFS conference at the Odeion theatre on the Bloemfontein Campus, where eleven speakers addressed an audience of 150 people on interdisciplinary topics ranging from economics to entrepreneurship, technology, art, design, and theology.

 

This year, 200 seats will be available for innovative revolutionary individuals in search of inspiration.

 

Tickets are available at 0619284253 / 079 381 4126. Prices: R80 (Student/scholars) and R350 (Public/staff)

 

LINKS:

Lerothodi Molete- http://whoswho.co.za/lerothodi-molete-742022

Bonginkosi Leeuw- https://www.ted.com/tedx/events/10499

TEDxUFS- http://kovsielife.ufs.ac.za/templates/archive.aspx?news=276

Mmusi Maimane- http://whoswho.co.za/mmusi-maimane-44612

Garett Cliff- http://www.garethcliff.com/

Pieter Geldenhuys- http://pietergeldenhuys.com/

Brian Kally- https://za.linkedin.com/pub/brian-kally/4b/888/959

Jonathan Jansen- http://www.ufs.ac.za/adhoc-pages/rectorate/prof-(jd)-jonathan-jansen

Ricardo Peach- http://ricardopeach.com/

Pamela Nomvete- http://whoswho.co.za/pamela-nomvete-4789

Gil Ovid- https://za.linkedin.com/pub/gil-oved/3/910/892

Pepe Marais- http://joepublic.co.za/people

Angelo Mockie- https://za.linkedin.com/pub/angelo-mockie/27/56/302

PhilippaTumubweinee- http://natagri.ufs.ac.za/templates/staffmember.aspx?DCode=101&pid=zyNJm7KI%2b1k%3d

Melody Mentz- https://za.linkedin.com/in/melodymentz

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