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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

Kovsie singing sensation releases debut album
2017-02-16

Description:Hailey Clark, Deurmekaar Tags: Hailey Clark, Deurmekaar longdesc=

Hailey Clark, musician and
third-year BA Drama and
Theatre Arts student at the
University of the Free State.
Photo: Sonelle van Wyk.

Music was always something this singing sensation wanted to do from a very early age.

Sonet du Plessis, more famously known by her stage name, Hailey Clark, is a third-year BA Drama and Theatre Arts student at the University of the Free State (UFS). Her electronic pop debut album, titled Deurmekaar, was finally launched after a year of hard work and sacrifice.

Success in English and Afrikaans

Hailey, whose album features Afrikaans and English songs, says her music is influenced and inspired by a variety of local sounds and artists. “Dirk van der Westhuizen and Refentse – a new and upcoming artist – are two of the locals I look up to,” she says.

Reaching success at such a young age is the result of setting goals and achieving them. “Success is when you grow as a person and an artist in your music. You need to enjoy every moment of what you do and share it with other people,” Hailey says.

Future music producer and actress

With a bright future ahead of her, Hailey wants to become a full-time musician, but also wants to focus on acting, especially in films. “I want to perform as much as possible and hopefully become a music producer. I also have plans to do some acting as well.”

For all those who dream of becoming a musician, it’s hard work, Hailey says. “You have to know it is something you want to do and you have to commit to it. If it is what you want, keep focused and surround yourself with positive and encouraging people.”

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