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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

First residence for UFS South Campus
2016-09-01

Description: First residence for UFS South Campus Tags: First residence for UFS South Campus

The residence has 146 double rooms with 17 kitchens
overall, each corridor has one kitchen. The residence
also has a gazellie and a conference room that
can accommodate 50 people.
Photo: Charl Devenish

The South Campus of the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein now has its own student residence. Completed in June 2016, the new residence can accommodate 250 undergraduate and 20 postgraduate students.
 
The residence has 270 beds, with 20 single-bedroom flats and 12 additional single rooms in the corridors.  Each of these single-bedroom flats has a kitchen, lounge, and a bathroom. There are 146 double rooms with 17 kitchens overall, each corridor has one kitchen. The residence also has a gazellie, a conference room that can accommodate 50 people, as well as eight laundry rooms with a drying area.
 
“Students at the South Campus have, up until now, been commuting from the Bloemfontein Campus and residential areas around town. We are extremely proud that accommodation will now be available to our students on the campus. Although the official opening of the residence is said to take place early in 2017, some students have already moved in,” says Prof Daniella Coetzee, Principal of the South Campus.
 
The residence was built at a cost of R57 million, which was funded by the UFS and the Department of Higher Education and Training.
 
Residence accessible to differently-abled people
The UFS strives to cater for differently-abled people by making all its buildings accessible to them. This residence is no exception, as it has two rooms available on the ground floor of Block C for differently-abled students. These rooms accommodate two students per room.
 
A one-of-a-kind newly installed water system
The residence is also the first at the university that has a grey-water system installed. Grey water is made up of bath, shower, and bathroom sink water. The water will then be reused for toilet flushing as well as for irrigation purposes on the campus.

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