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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

Khayalami residence launches first in-house library
2016-04-21

Description: 2016 KL News Khayalami library  Tags: Khayalami residence launches first in-house library in the country
Bongani Mtotoba (left) and Sinoxolo Gcilitshana (right) at the first-ever 24 hour in-house library at Khayalami residence. The librarian and Deputy Residence Head respectively hope to revive the culture of reading on our Bloemfontein Campus.
Photo: Valentino Ndaba

“It is said that reading means to the brain what exercise means to the body. For that reason, we want to bring back the culture of reading to our students who are, after all, the future replacement of the leadership of our wounded and broken country,” said Sinoxolo Gcilitshana, Deputy Residence Head, and Prime of Khayalami.

Titles such as A Life Ever Lasting by Miranda Hearn, To Live Free by William Wilberforce, Powers of Darkness Powers of Light by John Cornwell, and Character Counts by Charles Dyer are among the 228 inspirational books on the shelves of Khayalami residence’s library. Tuesday 12 April 2016 was a proud moment for the residence as it launched the first library in the country located within a university residence on the Bloemfontein Campus of the University of the Free State.

Last year, Dimpho Jasa, a resident at Khayalami, approached Sinoxolo, who then held the Residence Committee (RC): Academics portfolio, with an idea of forming a book club. Sinoxolo had suggested that a library be established in order to make the book club sustainable. That conversation served as a foundation of the 24 hour in-house library.

“We started with five books last year,” said Sinoxolo, “and ever since we sent the message out, the Vice-Chancellor and Rector, Prof Jonathan Jansen has been supporting us together with the Vice-Rector, Prof Nicky Morgan, as well as the Dean of the Faculty of Education, Prof Sechaba Mahlomaholo, and the Head of the Department of English, Prof Helene Strauss.”  

Now, more than 170 young men have access to a growing library that is expected to hold 1500 books by September, when Sinoxolo steps down as the Prime. According to Bongani Mtotoba, the RC: Academics and librarian, some residents have made pledges to help expand the collection. “The response has been quite positive from the guys,” he said.

Borrowers are required to submit a book review upon returning the book. This feedback will be compiled by the English Department into a book available to the public.

Khayalami’s pioneering spirit has also seen the residence run a successful writing competition in 2015. It has since been introduced to the rest of the East College, and now will take place annually.  

For more information on how to donate books or enter the writing completion, contact Sinoxolo on 0783332203 or semsinoxolo@hotmail.com.

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