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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

Research grant holder first to be graded at UFS in NRF’s Thuthuka Programme
2007-11-17

 

In the picture, from the left are: Ms Gudrun Schirge (National Research Foundation), Mr Nico Benson (Directorate Research Development at the UFS), Prof Heidi Hudson (Department of Political Science at the UFS) and Dr Annelize Venter (Co-ordinator of the Thuthuka Programme at the UFS)
Photo: Mangaliso Radebe

 

Research grant holder first to be graded at UFS in NRF’s Thuthuka Programme

Prof. Heidi Hudson, Departmental Chairperson at the University of the Free State's (UFS) Department of Political Science, recently received a C1 grading from the National Research Foundation (NRF).

With this grading she became the first researcher and grant holder in the Thuthuka Programme for young researchers at the UFS to be graded by the NRF.

“The Thuthuka Programme is a capacity building initiative from the NRF which prepares young researchers for grading and provides them with a good grounding for research,” said Dr Annelize Venter, researcher at the UFS Research Development Directorate and co-ordinator of the Thuthuka Programme.

According to Dr Venter, the UFS currently has 44 researchers who receive funding from the Thuthuka Programme for their postgraduate studies. The results of possible entrants to the programme in 2008 are awaited.

”The UFS also received ten researchers additional to the current 69 who have a valid evaluation status. The results of an additional 11 applications are also awaited. Some of these are first applications,” said Dr Venter.

Over and above the grant holders in the Thuthuka Programme, any researcher can apply to be evaluated by the NRF’s Evaluation Centre. The evaluation status of a researcher serves as the norm determinator and the quality of research at a university is measured according to this.

Ms Gudrun Schirge from the NRF presented a workshop today at the UFS to researchers who wanted to apply for grading and evaluation.
Researchers who wished to apply for the re-evaluation of their current evaluation status also attended the workshop.

Ms Schirge was one of the founders of the evaluation system and has been a manager at the Evaluation Centre for the past 20 years. She will be retiring this year and will be involved with the centre on a part-time basis.

Media Release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@ufs.ac.za  
16 November 2007
 

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