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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 awards honorary doctorates during spring graduation ceremony
2004-09-20

The University of the Free State (UFS) will award three honorary doctorates this week during its spring graduation ceremony.

The graduation ceremony will take place on Wednesday 22 September 2004 and the honorary doctorates are Dr Calvin Seerveld (D Phil (hc), Prof YK Seedat (MD (hc) and Dr Mary Seely (D Sc (hc).

“The doctorates come from a wide spectrum of specialty fields and serve as proof of the UFS’s policy to give recognition to people who stand out and make a difference,” says Prof Frederick Fourie, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS.

Dr Calvin Seerveld (D Phil (hc) will receive an honorary doctorate for his academic leadership at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto and the wide international recognition he has received throughout his career in various subject areas, eg philosophical aesthesia, the theory of art, the methodology of the description of the history of art and continental philosophy.

Prof YK Seedat (MD (hc) will receive an honorary doctorate for his extraordinary contribution to medicine in South Africa. His research in the field of hypertension in blacks received international recognition and significantly contributed to the understanding of the pathophysiology of this condition.

In the mid-eighties Prof Seedat was instrumental in supporting the bid from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of the Orange Free State (UOFS) to host the first Colleges of Medicine of South Africa examination in Bloemfontein. This started a tradition that is still being maintained. Prof Seedat is a researcher at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal.

The Executive Director of the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia, Dr Mary Seely (D Sc (hc)), will be honored for the impact she has made on the development of environmental management in the drier parts of the southern African subcontinent. Though her research has been concentrated in Namibia, she has affected the professional lives of large numbers of ecologists, environmental scientists and environmental managers.

According to Prof Fourie the three doctorates form part of the greater group of 18 who will be honored by the UFS during its centenary year. The last group will be receiving their honorary doctorates in October 2004.

 

Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel: (051) 401-2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za
20 September 2004

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