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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

UFS Centenary 2004 / 2005 October (centenary) fest Activities
2004-10-08

Friday, 08 October 2004
17:00 – 24:00
Callie Human Centre, UFS
Macufe Rock Concert
With: Rooibaardt, Karen Zoid, The Narrow, F****polisiekar, Stuurbaard Bakkebaard (from the Netherlands), DJ Bob, Ready D, Neva Me.
Cost : R50-00
Bookings : Pacofs (051-447 7772)

Sunday, 10 October 2004
16:00 – 18:00
Callie Human Centre, UFS
Macufe Three Tenors Concert
With: Phillip Kotze, Chris Coetzer and Du Preez Stolz, as well as Angela Kerrison. Free State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Chris Dowdeswell.
Cost :R60-00 (adults), R40-00 (children, scholars, students and pensioners)
Bookings : Pacofs (051-447 7772)

Tuesday, 12 October 2004
11:00 – 15:00
Centenary Complex, UFS
Inauguration of Centenary Complex
Open day with a variety of musical recitals in different rooms
Cost : Free
Enquiries : Elize Rall (051-401 3382)

15:00 – 17:00
Parking area next to the Centenary Complex, UFS
Kovsie Mosaic Day
Collage of the Century, Dance to the beat, Cultural Cartoon,
Who’s line is it anyway?
Cost : Free
Enquiries : Louis Botha (051-401 2819) or
AC Geldenhuys (084 585 3338)

Wednesday, 13 October 2004
19:00
Centenary Complex, UFS
Première of documentary film : The Life and Legacy of  King Moshoeshoe
Note : By invitation only
Enquiries : Elize Rall (051-401 3382)

Thursday, 14 October 2004
18:45 – 21:00
Red Square (in front of Main Building), UFS
Centenary Honorary Doctorate Degree Graduation Ceremony
Conferred on: Me. Antjie Krog, Prof. Jakes Gerwel, Mr. Karel Schoeman, Dr. Frederick van Zyl Slabbert, Prof. Saleem Badat, Dr. Khotso Mokhele, Prof. Robert Bringle, Prof. Leo Quayle, Prof. Jack de Wet, Prof. Kerneels Nel (posthumously), Prof. Boelie Wessels and Prof. Jaap Steyn .
Cost : Free. Please RSVP if you would like to attend.
Enquiries : Elize Rall (051-401 3382)

Friday, 15 October 2004
18:30
Centenary Complex, UFS
Alumni Dinner and Centenary Award Ceremony
Approximately 140 centenary medals will be awarded in acknowledgement of exceptional contributions to the development of the University. The award ceremony is followed by the Alumni dinner in the Callie Human Centre.
Cost : R100-00/person
Enquiries : Elize Rall (051-401 3382)

15:00 (to 12:00, Saturday, 16 October 2004),
UFS campus
Reunion : Momentum Adventure and Expedition Association
Including : Setting up of the Kovsie Momentum base camp, champagne breakfast and abseiling.
Cost : R50-00/person for breakfast
Enquiries : Gerrit van der Merwe (072 4317 153) or
Niel Fraser (082 772 5642)
Website : www.uovs.ac.za/associations/momentum_hrcc.

19:00 (to 11:00 Sunday, 17 October 2004)
Reunion : Cantare Revue Group
Including : Formal dinner, budget show, bring and braai, church service.
Cost : R100-00/person for the dinner
Enquiries : Louis Botha (051-401 2819)

19:00 (to 24:00 Saturday, 16 October 2004
Reunion : House NJ van der Merwe
Including : Senior Student’s Association and concerts
Cost : R5-00/person
Enquiries : Tutu Ntlathi (051-401 4122 / 072 865 2227)

Saturday, 16 October 2004
09:00 – 10:00
Committee Room 120, Faculty of Theology
Founding of Theology Alumni Association
Enquiries: Henna Nel (051-401 2669)

10:00 – 12:00
Parking area, CR Swart Building, UFS
Alumni Campus Tour
Including : Visits to the new physical developments on campus
Cost : Free
Enquiries : Jeanette Jansen (051-401 3594)

10:00 – 12:00
Sonnedou gazellie (next to NJ van der Merwe Residence), UFS
Reunion : Ladies’ Tea
Visit our new gazellie and find out what Sonnedou is up to these days.
Cost : R25-00/person
Enquiries : Anne-Marie Delport (072 109 0507)

12:00 – 16:00
JBM Hertzog Residence (garden in front of Senior Student’s Association), UFS
Reunion : Braai
Cost : Approximately R20-00/person
Enquiries : Hattingh Bornman (084 240 5226)

12:00 Vergeet-my-nie Residence, UFS
Reunion : Braai
Bring and braai. We supply the facilities. Bring old photographs and stories. Enjoy Aunt Juls’ last visit.
Cost : Free
Enquiries : Mari Jordaan (051-444 2832/072 392 4444)

12:00 HF Verwoerd Residence Senior Student’s Association, UFS
Reunion : Spit roast
Cost : R60-00/person
Enquiries : Jan-Chris Landman (051-401 3613 / 082 664 6062)

18:30 Floreat Hall, Bloemfontein Civic Centre (Braam Fisher Building)
Irawa 60 Reunion
For all former editors, former and current main editorial staff and coworkers
Cost : R100-00/person
Enquiries : Sanri van Wyk (072 333 1011)
Elzette Boucher (072 180 6265)

19:00 – 24:00 Red Square (in front of Main Building), UFS
Informal Alumni Reunion
Spit roast and stories in a marquee
Cost : R60-00/person
Enquiries : Elize Rall (051-401 3382)

Sunday, 17 October 2004
10:00 – 11:00
Kovsie Church
Church Service

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