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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

UFS Psychologist honoured for lifelong contribution
2015-12-09

Prof Dap Louw, distinguished professor and forensic psychologist from the University of the Free State, receives a Lifelong Achievers Award from the University of Johannesburg. From left is: Prof Theo Veldsman, head of the Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management at UJ, prof Louw, prof Deon de Bruin, Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management at UJ, and prof Daneel van Lill, dean at Faculty of Management at UJ.
Photo: Jan Potgieter, UJ

 

It is always good to be honoured by your own university, but it is even more special to be honoured by another university, according to Prof Dap Louw, distinguished professor and forensic psychologist from the University of the Free State (UFS), on an award he received from the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

On 5 November 2015, Prof Louw received the prestigious Lifelong Achievers Award from the Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management at UJ in recognition of the major contribution he has made during his career in psychology. He was one of two recipients of the award during this year’s UJ Top Achievers Awards Ceremony.

Prof Louw had great appreciation for his students and colleagues at the UFS, without who he would have been “without arms”.

Worthy legacy

The Lifelong Achievers Award is presented to retired academics that have, over their careers, consistently made significant contributions to their field, nationally and/or internationally, and have left behind a worthy legacy.

According to the description for the award, the recipient has left behind a legacy in his or her specific field which is gratefully acknowledged by all past, present and upcoming professional colleagues, students, clients and other stakeholders.

This description concludes with: “We are a better science and profession because of you”.

Career full of highlights

Prof Louw is the author or co-author of over 100 articles in accredited national and international journals, and he is an accredited NRF researcher.

He is the principal author and editor of several textbooks currently prescribed by 12 universities in South and Southern Africa. It is estimated that, over the years, more than 100 000 students have received their training via textbooks he has written with his wife, Prof Anet Louw.

Prof Louw holds a master’s and doctoral degree in Criminology, and a master’s and doctoral degree in Psychology. He is the only person in South Africa with these qualifications.
During his career as forensic psychologist, Prof Louw has testified in many familiar criminal cases in South Africa and Namibia.

The Academy of Science of South Africa presented him with the Stals Award for Psychology and he was honoured by The National Honor Society in Psychology in the USA as well.

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