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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

University community join hands in the walk for peace and justice
2016-03-02

Description: Prayer walk Callie Human Centre Tags: Prayer walk

The Campus Ministries Forum and South African Council of Churches (Free State) have organised a walk for peace and justice from the Main Building to the Callie Human Centre on the Bloemfontein Campus of the University of the Free State (UFS) on Tuesday 1 March 2016. This walk was followed by a prayer meeting at the Callie Human Centre.

Pastors from the Campus Ministries Forum of the South African Council of Churches (Free State) led a group of more than 350 students and staff in praise and worship, followed by prayers in English, Afrikaans, and Sesotho.

A significant gesture at the event was the church leader’s plea for peace and solutions for the conflict at the UFS.

Bishop Monty Mabale, Chairperson of the South African Council of Churches, read an extract from the declaration compiled by the pastors ministering to staff and students at the UFS.

“We are saddened by the violence and vandalism that took place on and off campus.  We understand that there are many reasons for frustration and anger, which lead to tensions at the end of last year and again now. We also understand that there are different perspectives on these developments and the complexities underlying to this. However, we cannot agree with the hate speech, the continuous blaming of others, the instigation of violence, and the damage being caused to this precious institution and its commitment to the ideal and practices of reconciliation and a proper education for every student.

“Because we believe in the justice and mercy of God in Christ, let us seek His justice in a compassionate way. Let us resolve to glorify his name in the way we enter into dignified discussions when addressing those matters we perceive to be injustices, and seek for solutions. Let us be critical of our own biased perceptions, opening ourselves to the practice of listening to the viewpoints of others and learning from each other, while discerning the will of God in our society together,” Bishop Mabale said.

The forum and council also wrote a special prayer for UFS students, staff, parents, and management:

Our Father in Heaven
•    You have created us all as unique, special people, each with a great destiny.
•    You have an awesome plan for our University, and value every person working and studying here.
•    We have not respected Your heart and opinion of everyone on campus, and so we have sinned against You.
•    Forgive us where we did not follow Your example of reconciliation, restoration, and forgiveness through the blood of Christ, Your Son, on the cross. We need You to show us what You expect of us: grace, mercy, respect, and tolerance for one another from a place of gratefulness and humility.
•    We are grateful for the opportunity and honour You have given us to be involved in this institution.
•    We repent and accept afresh Your commandment to love You and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
•    You are saying to us: “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” We, as an institution, believe and receive this promise You gave to us.

In Jesus Name we pray,
Amen.

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