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Science Engagement Symposium opens new opportunities for future scientist

By Mthokozisi Moyo, Science Engagement Intern, Maletsatsi Octovia Mohapi, DST-NRF Intern and Lee-Ann Moshe, Grade 11 Learner, SAEON Arid Lands Node
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Lee-Ann measures plants while conducting her study. She had to measure the height of the plants and count the number of leaves (Photo: Maletsatsi Octovia Mohapi)

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Lee-Ann arrives at O.R. Tambo International Airport on her first trip away from Kimberley (Photo: Mthokozisi Moyo)

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Lee-Ann proudly displays her certificate after winning the SAEON Kids Competition (Photo: Mthokozisi Moyo)

At the Arid Lands Node Science Expo on 13 August, one learner stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Yet at that point the young learner was still unaware that she was about to embark on a life-changing journey.

Lee-Ann Moshe, a Grade 11 learner from Vuyolwethu High School, wowed the judges with her insightful project as well as her presentation skills. She was selected to represent the node at SAEON’s annual Science Engagement Symposium in Phalaborwa.

Travelling to this symposium gave her an opportunity to fly for the first time. It was also the first time she set foot outside the Northern Cape Province.

Research project

Lee-Ann’s project titled "Adapt or die: How plants respond to drought conditions in arid areas", focused on ways in which plants respond to climate change. The main aim was to see if plants would be able to survive if they did not get enough water.

She used different treatments to test this and found that plants will survive with a constant supply of water and are able to recover if they are given water after a long period of drought. The Arid Lands Node team helped her to develop this project.

At the symposium, the various SAEON nodes showcased their work in an exhibition before the presentations started. The Arid Lands Node team made full use of this opportunity to teach the learners present about the arid lands, as most of them had not heard of this region.

It was encouraging to see Lee-Ann take charge, demonstrating her confidence and in-depth understanding of the work. The activity was based on sustainable resource use - how populations respond in protected and unprotected areas. Most of the learners were excited because Smarties (which represented the populations) were used to teach this concept.

Symposium

The programme started with a motivational talk by Reply Maluleke, a former participant in the SAEON programme. He spoke about his experiences and the skills he learnt during his involvement in the programme.

Then it was time for the learners to present their wide range of projects. All the learners demonstrated a thorough understanding of their work.

Prize-winning presentation

Lee-Ann won the prize for the best presentation at the symposium. "I was very nervous at first, but the scientists I had spoken to earlier encouraged me to such an extent that I was able to present my work. Winning this competition demonstrated that the amount of work I put into my project really paid off," she said.

On the day after the symposium, the learners were taken on a game drive in the Kruger National Park, another first for Lee-Ann. It was an amazing experience for the learners, who saw many animals, especially lions. They also visited the elephant museum, which added another educational experience to the list.

With sadness, the Arid Lands team had to leave Phalaborwa and the wonderful experiences they enjoyed there behind to head back home. This gave them time to reflect on their journey - from the start of the project right through to the end of the symposium.

"I enjoyed working with Lee-Ann because she was very enthusiastic about her project. For me, watching her present was the highlight of the symposium because it was a culmination of all the hard work and dedication she put in. I was not surprised when she won the competition because I knew that she was more than capable. I will continue to mentor her to help her achieve her dream of becoming a doctor." - Mthokozisi

"I personally enjoyed working with the team and with Lee-Ann on this project. It was a great opportunity that put our node on the map. The project was very practical and the results were relevant to the Northern Cape and its biodiversity. Lee-Ann winning the competition should be a motivation to other learners in the node programme that if you work hard, you will be rewarded and also get opportunities like this one." - Maletsatsi

"I would like to thank everyone at the Arid Lands Node for helping me with my project and for motivating me. I would like to thank SAEON for giving me this amazing experience to travel to another province and to meet other learners and scientists. This was an enriching experience, I learnt a lot. Words are not enough to say how grateful I am and how much I appreciate what SAEON has done for me. Thank You!!!" – Lee-Ann

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