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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 graduates encouraged to continue their legacy
2016-04-25

Description: Autumn graduation 2016 Tags: Autumn graduation 2016

A total of 3681 qualifications, from seven different faculties, were conferred between 12 to 15 April 2016 at the University of the Free State Autumn Graduations on the Bloemfontein Campus.
Photo: Evert Kleynhans

Photo Gallery
Graduation Video Clip 

“You cannot let your legacy stop here. Use your qualifications to change the life of others.”

This was the call from Dr Muavia Gallie, a guest speaker at one of the Autumn Graduations on the Bloemfontein Campus of the University of the Free State (UFS). He is a School-Turnaround strategist and educational activist.

He was the speaker on 12 April 2016 at the Faculty of Education graduation ceremony in the Callie Human Centre. According to Dr Gallie and other speakers at the graduations, graduates need to use their qualifications for the good of South Africa.

A diverse group of graduates

A total of 3681 qualifications were conferred in seven faculties between 12 and 15 April 2016, the week of ceremonies comprising eight sessions. It was four days of festivities with friends and families gathering to celebrate with graduates.

The large number of graduates consisted of a diverse group. According to Dr Khotso Mokhele, Chancellor of the UFS, the group passing with distinctions was also much more diverse than in past years, especially in the number of female students.

Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the UFS, said graduation ceremonies remain the most special days on the UFS calendar.

A total of 22 students from the Center for Universal Access and Disability Support also graduated during the week.

Work for next generation

Sello Hatang, the speaker on 12 April 2016 at the Faculties of Health Sciences, Law, and Theology ceremony, echoed Dr Gallie’s sentiments; “As you leave this university, your work begins for the next generation; to serve the people you care about in any way possible,” said Hatang, the Chief Executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Other speakers included Dawie Roodt, the most referenced economist in the media in 2015, at the ceremony of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences on 14 April 2016. The speaker on 15 April 2016 at the ceremony of the Faculty of Humanities was Nikiwe Bikitsha, one of South Africa’s leading journalists and broadcasters.

Achievers

In the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, Madri Brink (Baccalaureus Scientiae Agriculture) received a Senate Medal for the best four-year Baccalaureus degree, while Kyla Hayter (Baccalaureus Scientiae Honores) won the Senate Medal for the best Honours student at the UFS. Willem Carel Brink from the Faculty of Humanities received a Senate Medal for the best three-year Baccalaureus Degree.

Deans’ medals awarded by the UFS.

Also see videos of the respective guest speakers:
Dr Muavia Gallie
Sello Hatang
Dawie Roodt
Nikiwe Bikitsha

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