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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

Pre-story: Inauguration of Prof F Petersen as 14th Rector of the UFS
2017-05-08

“At the UFS, we want to produce graduates for the world, and we need to ensure that we use our knowledge to uplift society”
— Prof Francis Petersen, 14th Rector of the University of the Free State (UFS)

This week marks the first stage of the official welcoming and inauguration of Prof Francis Petersen as the 14th Rector of the UFS, who assumed his duties on 1 April 2017. 

Proceedings will commence on our Qwaqwa Campus, with a function at which the community is to welcome the incoming Vice-Chancellor and Rector. The event on Thursday 11 May 2017 is expected to attract a wide spectrum of community leaders in the area. Speakers to welcome Prof Petersen will include representatives from the two trade unions, National Health Education and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) and UVPERSU, as well as representatives from the Student Representative Council (SRC), Thabo Mofutsanyana Education District, and the House of Traditional Leaders.

On Thursday 18 May 2017, the South Campus in Bloemfontein hosts a welcoming ceremony for the new Vice-Chancellor and Rector, including a number of vocal performances and messages from various campus stakeholders. On Thursday afternoon, the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice (IRSJ) will also facilitate a panel discussion in the Albert Wessels Auditorium (AWO) on the Bloemfontein Campus.

The inauguration proceedings culminate in an event in the Callie Human Centre on Friday 19 May 2017 at the Bloemfontein Campus, with number of performances by musicians and school choirs to further embellish the function. Key stakeholders will also have the opportunity to convey their messages of welcome to Prof Petersen. The formal inauguration ceremony will take place on the Bloemfontein Campus on the same day.

As the above events take place, this article will be updated with the most recent photographs and other information. 

 

Inauguration Events


Qwaqwa Campus
Date:    Thursday 11 May 2017
Venue: Rolihlahla Mandela Hall, Qwaqwa Campus, Phuthaditjaba
Time:   10:00

South Campus
Date:    Thursday 18 May 2017
Venue: Mandela Arena, South Campus
Time:   10:00

Bloemfontein Campus
Date:    Friday 19 May 2017
Venue: Callie Human Centre
Time:   10:00

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