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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

Protest actions planned for 12-14 March 2008
2008-03-13

Three protest actions will take place on the Main Campus of the University of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein this week.

Although the interim court interdict granted to the UFS on 6 March 2008 is still in force, permission for the three protests was granted by the Mangaung Local Municipality and the court, in the presence of the university lawyer. Strict conditions have been set for these protest actions.

The UFS management respects the right to peaceful protest and also shares the sentiment of the protesters regarding the reprehensible Reitz video. However, strict conditions have been set for these protest actions as students are writing tests and the normal academic activities should not be disrupted.

Already the first picket protest took place today, Wednesday, 12 March 2008, by about 300 Satawu and Nehawu members. This was not a march and no memorandum was handed over.

On Thursday, 13 March 2008, Nehawu will again picket in front of the Main Building from 13:00 to 14:00. This event must be peaceful. This too is not a march and no memorandum will be handed over.

On Friday, 14 March 2008, a march of Cosatu and Nehawu will take place, starting in the city centre. The march will enter through the Nelson Mandela Drive gate and will enter the campus grounds.

However, it will be limited to the incoming lane of Chancellors Avenue from the Main Gate to the crossing with Alumni Avenue (in front of the Odeion building). Speeches will be made and a memorandum will be handed over.

It is expected that the march will reach the campus at approximately 10:00 and from then the Nelson Mandela Gate to the UFS will be closed for all traffic. The march must end by 14:00. The marchers will return to the city centre and may cause a traffic problem in Nelson Mandela Drive.

The South African Police Service (SAPS) and the UFS’s Protection Services Division will monitor all these actions. Staff, students and visitors to the campus are kindly requested to use alternative gates to the Nelson Mandela entrance on Friday. Academic activities will continue as normal this week.

Media Release
Issued by: Anton Fisher
Director: Strategic Communication
Tel: 051 401 3422
Cell: 072 207 8334
E-mail: fishera.stg@ufs.ac.za  
12 March 2008


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