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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 awards honorary doctorates during its centenary week
2004-10-07

The University of the Free State (UFS) will award 12 honorary doctorates on Thursday 14 October 2004 to a diverse group of outstanding South Africans and international experts.

This will be the last in a group of 18 honorary doctorates that the UFS will be awarding in its centenary year.

The awards comprise of a number of well-known language experts and writers, experts in higher education, first-time awards in community service and development studies, as well as music.

“This reflects quality and also diversity, a spectrum of convictions as well as the recognition of persons who played a major role in changing society in the last couple of decades, “ says Prof Frederick Fourie, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS.

The awards can be grouped in the following categories:

Language and literature:

Mr Karel Schoeman (D Litt (hc)) – well-known Afrikaans author and former student of the UFS. Some of the awards he has received include the Hertzog prize for prose (1970, 1986 and 1995), the CNA prize (1972 and 1994), the Old Mutual prize (1985 and 1991), the SABC prize for best television drama in 1990, the M Net book prize in 1997 and the State President award (former President Nelson Mandela: Order for Excellent Service – silver) in 1999. It is an honor for the UFS to have this gifted and creative person among its former students. This conferment is a fitting recognition of his status as leading South African writer.

Ms Antjie Krog (D Litt (hc)) – well-known South African poet and former student of the UFS. Her popularity as poet is evident in her piercing honesty and unequalled power of expression. Some of the awards she has received include the Eugéne Marais prize in 1973, the Rapport prize in 1987, the Hertzog prize in 1990 and the RAU prize in 2000. Her writing has been translated into seven languages. She has also received numerous honors for her involvement in and journalistic documentation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) proceedings. It is therefore an exceptional privilege for her alma mater to honor her with an honorary doctorate.

Prof Jaap Steyn (D Litt (et phil) (hc)) – recently, Prof Steyn again distinguished himself as biographer whose thorough research is apparent in the published biographies of illustrious writers such as NP van Wyk Louw and MER. The numerous awards, among which the Stals prize from the South African Academy of Science and Art for the Van Wyk publication, are a matter of record. He conducted the research for this great prize-winning work as honorary professor at the UFS.

Prof Jakes Gerwel (D Phil (hc)) – Chancellor of the University of Rhodes and Director of Naspers, Old Mutual, Gold Fields and Brimstone. His doctoral thesis was published in The Netherlands under the title Literatuur en apartheid. Konsepsies van “gekleurdes” in die Afrikaanse roman tot 1948 (1983). He received an honorary doctorate from Clark College ( Atlanta), the City University of New York and Missouri in the USA, the University of the Western Cape, the University of Cape Town, the University of Natal, Rhodes University, the University of Stellenbosch and the University of the Witwatersrand. He is also outstanding professor in the Humanities at the University of the Western Cape, honorary professor in the Humanities at the University of Pretoria, and was the chairman of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

Development Studies:

Dr Frederick van Zyl Slabbert (D Phil (hc)) – for his academic achievements, his endeavors for bringing about a peaceful transition in South Africa and his demonstration of the social investment role of the corporate sector. Dr Van Zyl Slabbert has received honorary degrees from the University of Natal and the Simon Fraser University in Canada. He has published seven books and various academic articles.

Community Service:

Prof Robert G Bringle (D Phil (hc)) – from the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) in the USA. He is currently Chancellor’s Professor of Psychology and Philanthropic Studies at the IUPUI and also Director of the IUPUI’s Centre for Service Learning. He is honored for his exceptional contribution to several of the UFS’s community service projects as well as his role in the advancement of a multi- and inter-disciplinary approach to academic development and the integration of service learning within the faculties of the UFS. He has also made a valuable contribution to the conceptual framework of the UFS’s unique community service policy and more recently to the advancement of a research culture regarding community service.

Higher education:

Dr Khotso Mokhele (D Phil (hc)), President of the National Research Foundation (NRF) is honored for his contribution to the South African higher education sector. He has also made a substantial contribution to the development of the research capacity of universities and technikons in South Africa. Dr Mokhele was born in Bloemfontein and matriculated at the Moroka High School in Thaba Nchu.

Prof Saleem Badat (D Phil (hc)), the Chief Executive Officer of the Council on Higher Education (CHE). Prof Badat has devoted himself to transforming and building South African higher education, and has constantly challenged the higher education sector to retain the moral basis of higher education and tackle its challenges with intellectual honesty, ingenuity, creativity and courage. He is honored for his intellectual leadership in the development of a equitable, just and quality higher education system in South Africa.

Law:

Prof HA (Boelie) Wessels (D Legum (hc)) – for his contribution to the fields of Roman Law, Legal History at the UFS. He is currently a part-time lecturer at the UFS’s Faculty of Law.

Medicine:

Prof CJC Nel (D Phil (hc) Posthumous) – for the way in which he strived for the advancement of excellent medical education in the country. Prof Nel also did pioneering work in the field of transformation in higher education. Under his guidance the School of Medicine at the UFS became one of the first medical schools to adopt a parallel-medium system of instruction.

Music:

Prof Leo Quayle (D Mus (hc)) – for the significant contributions he has made to the development of music – not only in Bloemfontein, but also on national level and abroad. His initiative, enthusiasm and dedication contributed to the eventual founding of the Free State Musicon, as well as the first symphony orchestra and the first string quartet in Bloemfontein. Prof Quayle is a former head of the Department of Music at the UFS.

Prof Jack de Wet (D Mus (hc)) – well-known for his exceptional contribution to violin tuition in South Africa. As pedagogue of international stature, he still moulds violinists who compete at national and international level. At an advanced stage of his career, he still actively conveys his knowledge, experience and distinctive insight in his field of speciality to yet another new generation of young violin teachers. Today the symphony orchestras in Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth also stand on the foundations laid by him.

Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel: (051) 401-2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za
7 October 2004

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