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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

FS Premiers Documentary Film On Basotho King Moshoeshoe
2004-10-06

The University of the Free State (UFS) will premiere a documentary film on the legacy of King Moshoeshoe, Basotho leader of the nineteenth century for his role in nation-building and reconciliation on Wednesday 13 October 2004.

The hour-long documentary film, produced by the well-known journalist Mr Max du Preez, was commissioned by the UFS as part of its centenary celebrations.

“To us this film is a practical demonstration of the UFS’s commitment to the continued transformation of the campus, and its commitment to reconciliation and nation-building. It is seen as a contribution to one of the UFS’s key strategic priorities for this year, namely diversity, equity and redress,” says Prof Frederick Fourie, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS.

“Through these priorities, the UFS commits itself to developing a shared appreciation of the history of this country and to contribute to the establishment of the Free State Province as a model of reconciliation and nation building,” says Prof Fourie.

“King Moshoeshoe was a great African statesman and leader. He was born in this region of the country, but his influence and legacy extends way beyond the borders of the Free State, Lesotho and even way beyond the borders of South Africa,” says Prof Fourie.

Earlier this year the UFS launched a project to honor King Moshoeshoe. The project included among others the production of this documentary film, the possible presentation of an annual Moshoeshoe memorial lecture that will focus on African leadership, nation-building and reconciliation and PhD-level research into the life and legacy of King Moshoeshoe and a literary anthology including prose and poetry.

According to Prof Fourie the project will enable the UFS to give real meaning to words such as reconciliation, respect for the diversity of our languages and cultures, and the unity South Africans seek to build as a democratic nation through such diversity.

The documentary film on King Moshoeshoe will be screened on SABC 2 later this year.

Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel: (051) 401-2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za
6 October 2004

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