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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

Meet the person behind the new #FaceOfFacebook
2016-05-19

Reuben “R” Davids

The votes have been counted, and we have a winner! After much excitement and a fairly close contest, Reuben “R” Davids emerged victorious from the top five contestants selected by our panel of judges. We chatted with the vibrant and enthusiastic Mr Davids to get a sense of the person who will be our Facebook ambassador for the next year.

What does the “R” stand for?

“Interestingly, some also know me as Vuyo. It's not a name on my birth certificate or anything; I just really like it. And I also coincidentally found out that it means “joy/happiness”, and I do enjoy being happy.”

What is your field of study, and how far along are you?

“I am pursuing a career in the economics field as a third-year BCom Accounting student in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences here at the University of the Free State.”

Are you originally from Bloemfontein?

“Yes, born and bred. I've been a Bloem Kid since day one.”

How is it that you ended up here, studying at the UFS?

“The UFS has always been one of my favourite universities. During my high school period, I was constantly exposed to people from my neighbourhood as well as schoolmates who performing excellently here at UFS, and it didn't go unnoticed. So I have always been drawn to the prestige that UFS carries.”

Which residence are you in, and what do you enjoy most about res life?

“I currently stay at home with the family, but for my first 2 years of study I resided at ConLaurês. What I enjoyed the most about res life is the freedom and independence that you get. It also enables one to participate in campus life much easier. It actually helps one grow and mature into the adult you're supposed to become with all the challenges and responsibilities that you're faced with.”

What do you hope to accomplish during your term as the #FaceOfFacebook?

“I enjoy the art of presenting (as well as being an MC), and being the #FaceOfFacebook will enable me to exercise that skill. Also, my interaction skills will be exercised. That being said, I would like to have those skills developed further by the end of my term as #FaceOfFacebook.”

What is your motivation in your studies, in taking part in this contest, and in life?

“I am an adrenaline junkie. I like taking on challenge; so what I normally do is I set a certain goal for myself and then take on the challenge to achieve that goal. That's my number one motivating factor. And I think I'm also inspired by the failures and successes of myself and of those around me.”

Reuben has already been featured in a #PeopleOfKovsies post on Facebook, and appeared in his first Facebook video covering the Open Day on our Bloemfontein Campus.

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