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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

New computer centre
2007-05-15

Attending the sod turning ceremony of the University of the Free State's (UFS) new computer centre were, from the left: Mr Abraham Makhalanyane (Director of Sikeyi Construction), Prof. Frederick Fourie (Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS) and Mr Johann Ströhfeldt (Director of Ströhfeldt Construction Group). The centre, which will host about 815 computers, will be erected in a joint venture between the two construction companies.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs
 

UFS gets new computer centre

The first sod of a new computer centre which will host about 815 computers was turned on the Main Campus of the University of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein today.

The computer centre, which will be situated next to the UFS Sasol Library, will have various state-of-the-art computer laboratories. This is the first new building to be built on the Main Campus since the student centre, Thakaneng Bridge, and will be erected at a total project cost of R19 million.

“The computer centre is an important addition to our strategy to promote e-learning and is a sign of the new era of blended learning which students are now practicing,” said Prof. Frederick Fourie, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, during the sod-turning ceremony.

According to Prof. Fourie the building will address students’ need for available computers. “All our students do not have a computer to assist them with their studies. The centre will empower them to complete their studies successfully and will provide them with the opportunity to conduct research in an academic environment,” said Prof. Fourie.

“Various laboratories for among others group work, as well as laboratories where students can work in a quiet environment on individual assignments will be established. Rooms for classes where a computer is a prerequisite to students as well as rooms for examinations, tests and practical sessions will be provided,” said Prof. Fourie.

The computers will not only comprise of traditional programmes, but rooms with programmes for open learning will also be established. Subject specific software will be installed in certain rooms to enable students to obtain a good knowledge of the subject fields.

The computer centre, which will be open seven days a week, will also be at the disposal of UFS staff.

“I am looking forward to this development on the Main Campus. It will be a thrill to see more than 800 students studying in the computer laboratories,” said Prof. Fourie.

The building will be erected in a joint venture between Ströhfeldt Construction Group and Sikeyi Construction, a black empowerment company. Mr Abraham Makhalanyane, Director of Sikeyi Construction, thanked the UFS for the opportunity to be involved with a project of this magnitude. “A project like this is a great responsibility and I am looking forward to work with a team of experts,” he said. Mr Johann Ströhfeldt, Director of Ströhfeldt Construction Group, said: “We have been working with the UFS on construction projects for more than 25 years. I believe that this project will also contribute to the pride and glory of the UFS.”

The expected completion date of the computer centre is May 2008.

Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl@ufs.ac.za
14 May 2007
 

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