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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

Two Kovsies in Baby Boks group for U20 Championship
2017-05-12

Description: ' 000 Baby Boks Tags: Baby Boks 2017

Scrumhalf Rewan Kruger, left, and prop Kwenzo Blose, both
rugby players from the University of the Free State, will
soon be playing in their first and second Junior World
Tournament respectively.
Photo: SA Rugby

Although he will soon be playing in his first Junior World Cup, Rewan Kruger believes his experience of international rugby will help him succeed. Last year, the scrumhalf was part of the South African schools team playing in the U19 series against Italy, Wales, England, and France.
Kruger and prop Kwenzo Blose, who will be playing in his second World Tournament, are two players from the University of the Free State that were recently included in the final Baby Boks group of 28. The World Rugby U20 Championship will take place in Tbilisi, Georgia from 31 May to 18 June.

A taste of international rugby

The 19-year-old Kruger says it is hard to describe how thrilled he is about his inclusion. “The whole group of players were gathered in a room and the next moment the coach [Chean Roux] played a video on his computer, announcing the team that will be playing abroad.”
The former Grey College, Bloemfontein, pupil has already had a taste of international rugby. “I believe the experience I gained in the international U19 series will help me a lot in the upcoming U20 World Rugby Championship. I already have an idea of the pace of an international game.”

Team can improve on previous year

Blose, KovsieSport’s Junior Sportsman for 2016, says the South African U20 team could do better than the fourth place they got in Manchester, England in 2016. “South Africa is a strong rugby nation and we have set high standards for ourselves. Therefore, we will do our best to win the tournament. We have a great group and I believe we have the potential to win the trophy.”
The former lock from Glenwood High School, Durban, says it has helped his team to play practice matches against senior teams such as the Griquas. “The preparation was tough and I think it will benefit the team.”

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