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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

A time to celebrate: Autumn graduations
2016-04-07

General graduation information 
Livestreaming

The first series of graduations for the year are upon us. Graduates from all seven faculties, the Business School, and the School of Open Learning at the University of the Free State (UFS) will be celebrating their academic achievements. A total of 3681 qualifications will be conferred at ceremonies on the Bloemfontein Campus from 12 to 15 April 2016.

Sejakhumo Makhetha, daughter of our Vice-Rector: Student Affairs and External Relations, Dr Choice Makhetha, will be among the graduates receiving BA Governance and Political Transformation degrees. Coincidently, Dr Makhetha obtained her PhD in Political Science in 2003 at the UFS. Sejakhumo Makhetha is currently busy with her postgraduate diploma in the same field.

The four-day celebration symbolises the UFS prerogative as an institution to transform lives by producing leaders of tomorrow. Dr Muavia Gallie, Dr Sello Hatang, Dawie Roodt, and Nikiwe Bikitsha are expected to address these future leaders and guests at these ceremonies.

Addressed by the best

On the guest speaker line-up, we have Dr Gallie, a School and District Turnaround Strategist and education activist, who has been identified as one of the 10 Most Impressive Public Leaders for 2015 by the UFS Vice-Chancellor and Rector, Prof Jonathan Jansen. The former Head of Operations, Human Resources and Information and Communication Technology at the South African Council for Educators (SACE) has had more than 30 years of experience in education.

Dr Gallie and Dr Hatang will address graduates of the Faculties of Education, Health Sciences, Law, and Theology on 12 April 2016. Dr Hatang is the Chief Executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. In addition to being a founding member of the Advisory Council of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, Hatang has had the privilege of serving as the Head of Information Communications, and spokesperson for the South African Human Rights Commission as well as Director: South African History Archive at Wits University.

Dawie Roodt, founder, director, and chief economist of the Efficient Group, will speak at the Faculty of Economic and Management Science ceremony on 14 April 2016. This nationally-renowned economist boasts 30 years of experience in monetary and fiscal policy, and is one of the most referenced authors. In 2013, he published Tax, Lies and Red Tape.

As one of South Africa’s leading journalists, Nikiwe Bikitsha will draw on her 20-year career in radio, television, and journalism to address the Faculty of the Humanities graduates on the final day of graduations. Through her passion for Africa’s economic development and women empowerment, the co-founder and CEO of Amargi Media has been a successful Programme Director for UN, IMF and AU-related events.

 

Details of event

Dates: 12, 13, 14, 15 April 2016

Times: 09:00 and 14:30

Venue: Callie Human Centre, Bloemfontein Campus, University of the Free State

 

 

 

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