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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

Kovsie Tennis team defends proud USSA record in Cape Town
2015-12-01


In 2014, Kovsies won gold at the USSA Tennis Tournament for the eighth consecutive time. Six players from last year's 12-man squad are in 2015 in Cape Town again available. Photo: Johan Roux

Duke Munro already has six gold medals from the USSA Tennis Tournament in his cupboard, and the Kovsie Tennis team would wish to bid him farewell in a fitting manner during what will probably be his last tournament in Cape Town.

This year's tournament, taking place from 30 November to 4 December 2015, will probably be Munro's last, since he is completing his Master's degree in Quantity Surveying at the University of the Free State (UFS).

He has competed in the USSA Tournament since 2009, and would like to help his team defend its proud record.

UFS aim for ninth consecutive title

Kovsies have won gold at the USSA Tournament for the last eight years. They are the only team who have been able to win the tournament since the combined format was adopted in 2010. In 2007 and 2008, their Women's team won the tournament, and in 2009, their Men's team.

Kovsies will play in group matches against the Universities of Venda and Wits on 30 November 2015, against the University of Cape Town's (UCT's) second team on 1 December 2015, and against UCT's first team on 2 December 2015. The cross and knockout matches will be played on 3 and 4 December 2015.

Other sporting codes

The Sevens Rugby team from the UFS will compete in the USSA Tournament in George on 30 November and 1 December 2015.

For the past two years, the team has won bronze, and will be playing three league matches on 30 November 2015 against the North-West University's Vaal Campus, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University's Port Elizabeth Campus, and the Vaal University of Technology.

Kovsies are the current Varsity Sevens Champions after winning the title in Cape Town in April 2015.

Ten Kovsie swimmers took part in the USSA Tournament in Johannesburg from 28 November to 30 November 2015. Last year, Kovsies came third, but unfortunately some of their leading swimmers were unable to take part this year.

The Kovsie Table tennis team will participate in the USSA Tournament in Kimberley from 30 November to 4 December 2015.

Most of the USSA Tournaments in the other sporting codes were either postponed or cancelled because of the recent nationwide student protests. As a result of the protests, exams were written later, and tournaments would have taken place during the holidays.

Only the tennis, table tennis, Sevens rugby, swimming, and cricket B Division in East London will continue.

The USSA Soccer Tournament, to take place at the UFS and the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein, was postponed until March 2016.

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