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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

SRC President to advocate for all students during term
2017-04-10

Description: ' A Pres SK Tags: Pres SK

Skhululekile Luwaca, the newly elected SRC President
on the Bloemfontein Campus.

Photo: Johan Roux

 

With a grateful heart, Sikhulekile Luwaca takes up his position as Student Representative Council (SRC) President on the Bloemfontein Campus, after the results of the election were announced on 29 March 2017.

An integrated leader

Sikhulekile, known as SK among his peers, said that as a leader, he needed to integrate himself with the student community, and from there he would have the influence to make an impact on society. “I believe in being an open-minded leader who is open to engagement and peaceful resolutions.”

SK said he would like to represent the interest of all students and invited them to raise their concerns. By the end of his term, he wanted to have achieved a number of goals, which include the integration of off-campus students and to provide a shuttle service for them. He said he also wanted to establish and launch an SRC fund. Furthermore he plans to make sure that all structures of student governance are functional, to name but a few.

2017 SRC candidates

The SRC members at the Bloemfontein Campus are:

President: Sikhulekile Luwaca
Vice-President: Surprise Manyaiyi
Secretary: Nothando Hlophe
Treasurer: Ntombi Nhlapo
Student Development and Environmental Affairs: Silindelokuhle Mthethwa
Transformation: Mathlodi Leteane
Arts and Culture: Joseph Ntebele
Sport: Nombulelo Booi
Media and Marketing: Refilwe Motsumi
Student Accessibility and Support: Donald Litsoane
Legal and Constitutional Affairs: John Modukanele
First Generation Students: Mohau Lesebo
Academic Student Council: Sekese Rasephei
Rag and Community Service: Gert Jan van der Walt
Day Residence and Commuter Student Council: Gontse Choane
Postgraduate Student Council: Mpoi Makhetha
International Student Council: Takudzwa Nyamunda
On Campus Residence Council: Natasha Kabaso
Dialogue and Associations Council: Asive Dlanjwa
Student Media Council: Puseletso Mashego

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