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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 Rector gets reappointed
2007-06-08

The Council of the University of the Free State (UFS) today unanimously (Friday 8 June 2007) extended the term of Prof. Frederick Fourie, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, for a further five years.

Prof. Fourie was appointed on 1 January 2003 in this position and his current term appointment will expire on 31 December 2007. The extension of his five-year term as Rector and Vice-Chancellor will come into effect on 1 January 2008. .

“During the course of his term Prof. Fourie clearly demonstrated that he has the competencies and abilities to manage the recent strong growth phase of the UFS and to further develop the UFS to be a modern university,” said Judge Faan Hancke, Chairperson of the UFS Council.

“His commitment to quality, integrity, justice, non-racialism and non-sexism are qualities that will be crucial to addressing the strategic objectives and priorities of the UFS,” said Judge Hancke.

According to Judge Hancke, Prof. Fourie’s confrontation of and commitment to two of the most important challenges facing the UFS also played a role in the Council’s decision to extend his term. These challenges are:

  • The institutional charter as key to successful, high-quality transformation and social robustness in the context of diversity; and
  • The strategic clusters as key to a word-class research and teaching profile, academic quality and robustness.

A diversely compiled committee with a balanced representivity made a unanimous decision to submit the extension of Prof. Fourie’s term to Council today for approval. The evaluation committee comprised of among others the chairperson of Council as the presiding officer, the vice-chairperson of Council, other Council members who are not employees of the UFS and representatives of Senate.

The process comprised of the evaluation of Prof. Fourie’s work performance and competencies within a broad framework of the strategic aims of the UFS.

According to Judge Hancke the evaluation committee considered aspects such as the staff profile of the UFS; the vision, mission, values and strategic priorities of the UFS and Prof. Fourie’s vision for the UFS; the inherent post requirements of Rector and Vice-Chancellor; the outcome of the evaluation discussion with regard to Prof. Fourie’s successes during his term as Rector and the future challenges for a rector before the recommendation was made to Council.

“On behalf of Council I wish to congratulate Prof. Fourie with his appointment and wish him all of the best with his task to take the UFS to new heights,” said Judge Hancke.

Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@ufs.ac.za
8 June 2007
 

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