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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

Relief for baby and child care at the UFS with donation from Fuchs Foundation
2007-11-17

 

At the launch of the Beds of Hope campaign were, from the left: Dr Riaan Els, Chief Executive Officer of the Carl en Emily Fuchs Foundation, Prof. André Venter (Head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Care), Ms Corné Booyens (National Grants Manager at the Carl en Emily Fuchs Foundation), Dr Nick van Zyl (Clinical Head at Universitas Hospital), and Prof. Niel Viljoen (Chief Director: Operations).
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

Relief for baby and child care at the UFS with donation from Fuchs Foundation

The Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of the Free State (UFS) has received relief for their need of specialised healthcare for babies and children with a donation of R1,5 million from the Carl and Emily Fuchs Foundation.

As a result of this, the Beds of Hope campaign was launched today on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein. With the campaign, the department wants to address the serious need for specialised healthcare for babies and children in the central regions of South Africa.

The department is one of four out of 19 children hospitals in South Africa to receive such a donation. .

“We take care of babies and children in the Universitas and Pelonomi Hospitals in Bloemfontein who have a serious need for specialised healthcare. We are, however, the only supplier of this kind of care in the Free State, North West, Eastern Cape and Lesotho and are responsible for the specialised healthcare of more than 100 000 children. Many of our equipment are outdated and must be urgently repaired or replaced,” said Prof. André Venter, Head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Care at the UFS.

“Because we are concerned about our patients, the department launched the Beds of Hope campaign with the help of the donation we received from the Fuchs Foundation. With the campaign, we aim to raise some R15 million in the space of two years to purchase beds and specialised equipment for the intensive care and high care units for both hospitals,” said Prof. Venter.
According to Prof. Venter, this includes babies and children with needs for specialised healthcare in the fields of intensive care, oncology, cardiology, neurology, endocrinology, gastro-enterology, neonatology and infectious diseases.

“About ten children are currently not receiving the care they need due to the lack of beds in the intensive care unit. Much more neonates can annually receive critical care if we can supply adequate facilities,” said Prof. Venter.

The other hospitals that are also supported by the Fuchs Foundation’s donation are: Healing Jozi Kids, Boikanyo Foundation and the Groote Schuur Hospital’s neonatal department.

The donation is the beginning of the first phase of the national Fuchs Healing Kids Project, which aims to improve the quality of paediatric care in South Africa.

The aim of this phase is to assist the hospitals to develop the systems and skills needed to collect more money. The research part of phase two and the building up of the hospitals’ children trust funds to be self self-supporting, will happen simultaneously. This phase will be launched early in 2008.

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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