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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

Team on the way to SIFE world cup
2007-07-16

 

A team of students from the University of the Free State (UFS) has won a national competition in business skills and entrepreneurship, and will be representing South Africa at the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) World Cup in New York later this year.

The SIFE World Cup will be held in New York from 10 to 12 October, and will feature student teams from 40 countries.

Antonia Gumede, a UFS student, says the competition involves students developing sustainable business models based in the community, which are evaluated in terms of entrepreneurship, financial literacy, business ethics, market economics and success skills.

Gumede says the UFS entry won first prize in all five categories at this year’s national competition.

The UFS team consisted of seven students and two faculty advisers, and included a diverse group of students studying in fields such as accounting, psychology, social science and actuarial science.

The UFS won the national SIFE competition for three years in a row – 2002, 2003 and 2004. This year (2007), the UFS team emerged as the winner for the fourth time.

The Co-ordinator of Community Service in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, Tessa Ndlovu, attributes the success of the team to the university’s policy of community service learning, which she says motivates students to get involved in academically grounded projects that contribute to the well-being of the community.

“The financial, academic and emotional support from the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, as well as the faculty’s contribution to community service learning on the campus, contributes to the success of the team,” added Ndlovu.

The UFS SIFE team has been sweeping the board nationally. They first won the competition in 2002 and went on to represent the country at the SIFE World Cup in Amsterdam (the Netherlands), where they came fourth out of 33 countries.

In the following year (2003), the SIFE UFS team was once again crowned the national champion and went on to represent South Africa internationally, coming second in Mainz, Germany.

SIFE teams spend the academic year conducting projects that specifically meet the communities’ unique needs. These efforts assist aspiring entrepreneurs, struggling business owners, low-income families and children by teaching them how to succeed in a global market economy.

“Teams have the tremendous asset of learning from business experts who serve on their Business Advisory Boards. These people not only provide mentorship and guidance to them in terms of their projects, but also introduce them to other leaders in the community and give them access to needed resources,” said Nldovu.

“It is an unparalleled feeling to know that the contribution we as students make in our communities actually matters,” added Gumede.

Media release
Issued by: Mangaliso Radebe
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2828
Cell: 078 460 3320
E-mail: radebemt.stg@mail.ufs.ac.za  
16 July 2007
 

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