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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

Ex-SRC Reunion 2005
2005-01-14

The University of the Free State (UFS) is celebrating it centenary with the theme 100+. This celebration does not only focus on the past, but especially on the future for the next 100 years. The conclusion of the Centenary year will be held on 28 January 2005 together with Kovsie Day, a joint project with the UFS Centenary Festival, Student Representative Council and Rag, and includes a huge “Potjiekos” Festival.

This closing function is, however, the beginning of the future festival which reaches its climax from 4–6 February 2005. During the weekend, an SRC Reunion will be held to which all ex-SRC members are personally invited.

The weekend program briefly includes the following:

Friday, 4 February 2004

09:00 Official opening of the University with a message by the Vice-Chancellor and Rector, Prof Frederick Fourie

11:00 A massive campus photo of all on campus

19:00 Through the night together with Rag.

Saturday, 5 February 2004

08:30 Champagne breakfast at the Thakaneng Bridge

10:00 Official attendance of the Rag Procession

19:00 SRC Dinner at the Centenary Festival Complex

Sunday, 6 February 2005

18:30 A special combined Dedication service at the Red Square (Rooiplein).

It will be a great privilege for the UFS to welcome all SRC members of the past 100 years. RSVP no later than 14 January 2005 to Nicolaas du Plessis. The costs will be indicated on the RSVP form.

N.B.: The UFS would be pleased to reach all ex-members. Should you be in contact with any other members, please send this information to them or contact me at the necessary contact numbers. For more information please contact me at 084 955 0875 or Elize Rall at 051-401 3382.

Nicolaas du Plessis

SRC Officer

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