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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 students should register like this
2004-12-15

Student activities on the main campus of the University of the Free State (UFS) will start next year when first-time entering first-year students will be welcomed by the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, Prof Frederick Fourie, on 15 January at 11:00 in the Callie Human Centre on campus.

“The registration process will start on 17 January 2005 when first-time entering first-year students, who applied for admission before 30 November 2005, will start registering. These students may register until 21 January 2005 according to a programme,” said Mr Vernon Collett, Registrar: Academic Student Services at the UFS.

Senior undergraduate students may register from 22-29 January 2005 and postgraduate students, first-time entering first-year students and other students who applied for admission after 30 November 2004 until 15 January 2005, may register from 31 January- 4 February 2005 according to a programme.

According to Mr Collett postgraduate students who applied for admission from 15 January- 11 February 2005, may register according to a programme from 7-11 February 2005. Students who want to change their field of study or want to amend their modules, may do it during this period.

“To ensure an orderly registration process, strict adherence to the registration programme will be maintained,” said Mr Collett.

Applications for the Career Preparation Programme (CPP) close on 21 January 2005 en those for upgrading courses in Education, will close on 2 February 2005.

“Pipeline students from Vista must register on the UFS’s Vista campus on the dates already mentioned and first-year students from Vista must register on the UFS’s main campus,” said Mr Collett.

All registrations will take place daily from 08:00 in the Callie Human Centre on the main campus.

According to Mr Collett a variety of services will be available to students in the Callie Human Centre during the registration – among others advice on bursaries, loans, staff and council bursaries, enquiries for international students, information on class and room tables, student cards, vehicle permits etc.

At the Qwaqwa campus all first-time entering first-year students must report on 17 January 2005, after which the registration of these students will take place according to a specific programme. Application for admission to this campus close on 1 February 2005. First-time entering first-year students will be welcomed by the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, Prof Frederick Fourie, on 22 January 2005 at 11:00 in the Nelson Mandela Hall on campus.

Lectures at the UFS’s main campus as well as the Vista- and Qwaqwa-campusses will commence on 31 January 2005.

Prospective students who want to apply or who have any enquiries can call (051) 401-3000 or visit the UFS web site late in December 2004 at www.uovs.ac.za.

A complete registration programme for first-time entering first-year students who registered before 30 November 2004 will appear in Volksblad of 29 Desember 2004.

      Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel: (051) 401-2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za
15 December 2004

 

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