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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

Winning culture helps Kovsies Tennis team claim ninth gold
2015-12-09


Ruben Kruger of the University of the Free State in action at the 2015 USSA tournament in Cape Town.
Photo: Janine de Kock

A winning culture in the Kovsies Tennis Team, combined with good planning, contributed to the University of the Free State (UFS) USSA success recipe.

This is what Janine Erasmus, one of the team's captains, had to say.

According to her, this is why the UFS were able to handle the pressure of being the favourite so well, and this is what helped her team to achieve a ninth consecutive gold medal in Cape Town on 4 December 2015.

This was the sixth year in a row that the UFS triumphed in the combined USSA format since its inception in 2010. In 2007 and 2008, its Women's team won gold, and in 2009, it was the Men's team.

Erasmus was full of praise for the Kovsie coach, Marnus Kleinhans, and Janine de Kock, manager of KovsieTennis.

“We had a build-up of a few months to the USSA tournament, and they (Kleinhans and De Kock) already knew exactly what to do,” she said.

Erasmus, who won a third gold medal, believes her team had great depth this year.

Four in select squad

Kovsies and Maties played in the USSA Tennis Finals for a fourth consecutive year.

Erasmus and her team beat the Stellenbosch team 7 - 3 on 4 December 2015, after they defeated Tukkies 8 - 0 in their semi-final.

 

Mareli Bojé is one of four tennis players of the University of the Free State included in a 2015 USSA tournament team.
Photo: Janine de Kock

Arné Nel, Cornelius Rall, Duke Munro, and Mareli Bojé are the four Kovsies included in the USSA tournament team.

Nel, the other captain from the UFS, won all his matches for the third successive year. Munro won a gold medal at USSA for the seventh year in a row.

Gold for Table Tennis


Three UFS sports teams made it to the USSA finals, all against Maties. The tennis and men's table tennis teams were both winners, but the Sevens rugby team got stuck.

The Kovsie table tennis team beat Maties 3 - 1 in Kimberley.

Silver for Sevens rugby

The Kovsie Sevens rugby team, third at USSA for the past two years, walked away with silver in George on 1 December 2015.

The team was defeated by Maties 10 - 31 in the final. This was after they won 24 - 14 against Pukke in the semi-final, and 28 - 12 against the Central University of Technology in the quarter final.

Tukkies, the 2014 USSA Sevens champions, together with several other teams, did not take part  because the tournament was postponed because of the nationwide student protests.

The Kovsie swimming team took part in the USSA tournament in Johannesburg from 28 November to 30 November 2015.


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