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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

Prof. Dingie Janse van Rensburg promoted to Outstanding Professor
2007-11-19

The University of the Free State (UFS) is pleased to announce that Prof. Dingie Janse van Rensburg, Director of the Centre for Health Systems Research and Development has been promoted to Outstanding Professor.

In 1991 the Executive Committee of the Council introduced the category of Outstanding Professor to give recognition to a small group of outstanding academics. Not many academics at the UFS received this status since then.

Prof. Janse van Rensburg has been working at the UFS for 37 years and played a big role in establishing a culture of scientific publication among young and upcoming researchers.

Prof. Janse van Rensburg enjoys extensive national and international recognition as researcher and research manager. He delivered various national and international papers and is involved in a variety of international research projects – some of which were initiated by him. He succeeded in involving a variety of foreign researchers in long term research projects.

In 1993 he established an entrepreneurial research and development centre, which he has sustained for more than 13 years. The centre enjoys recognition nationally as well as internationally as well as credibility in the eyes of the international donor community, within government’s health sphere as well as in peer academic circles.

Prof. Janse van Rensburg has for several years been a grant holder of both the National Research Foundation and the Medical Research Council for research projects on Tuberculosis and HIV/Aids.

During his career at the UFS Prof. Janse van Rensburg received several merit awards and commendations from the UFS and other institutions. These include the Stals Prize in 1993 from the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns, a Council Medal from the UFS in 2003, the UFS Centenary Medal in 2004, an award from the Department of Health in 2004 for excellence and continued support of this department, a promotion to Senior Professor from the UFS in 2005 and the Free State Premier’s Excellence Award Gold category in 2006 for excellence in research and development.

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  
19 November 2007
 

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