NASSP Celebrates 20th Anniversary With Two-Day Symposium

NASSP Celebrates 20th Anniversary With Two-Day Symposium

In celebration of its 20th anniversary, the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme (NASSP) hosted a symposium at the University of Cape Town (UCT) from 25 – 26 January 2024. Supported by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI); the National Research Foundation (NRF); South African Space Agency (SANSA); and the NASSP node universities (UCT, North-West University the University of KZN), the symposium brought together NASSP students, alumni, supervisors, lecturers, and stakeholders to celebrate and reflect on the positive impact of NASSP. Attendees at the event included the DSI Deputy Director General Mr Imraan Patel; Mr Takalani Nemaungani, Chief Director of Astronomy at the DSI, Prof Daya Reddy, the UCT Vice Chancellor, and Prof Petri Vaisanen, MD of NRF-SAAO.

NASSP has been integral in the creation of the next generation of astronomers and space scientists. The programme has touched countless students through world-class education and research opportunities.

By the end of 2023, NASSP had produced 464 Honours graduates and 235 Master’s degrees in astrophysics and space science. Its graduate community across the African continent and around the world is diverse, vibrant and excellent, and includes more than 70 graduates from 17 African countries. Many from elsewhere in Africa have returned to their home countries where they are growing postgraduate programmes and research communities.

The symposium aimed to celebrate the success of NASSP through its graduates, with a programme of talks from alumni who shared personal accounts of their career paths and highlights of their current roles. A significant number of graduates now work in scientific fields, including many at the NRF, and contribute to South Africa through their work in education, finance and tech industries.

NASSP graduate, Pfesesani van Zyl, who works at NRF-SARAO’s HartRAO facility, visited SALT during a NASSP student tour. Looking back, she said, “My time in the NASSP programme proved to be a truly transformative experience that left an indelible mark on my perspective and aspirations. It afforded me the opportunity to witness a real telescope for the first time, which was nothing short of awe-inspiring; a pivotal moment that reshaped my understanding of what I could achieve. Now, as I live out my dreams, I owe a debt of gratitude to that extraordinary decision to join NASSP that expanded my horizons and showed me that I, too, could reach for the stars in the truest sense.”

Some of the other unique and impactful journeys shared by ‘NASSPies’ working in the scientific and tech fields came from Moses Mogotsi (from NASSP to the Southern African Large Telescope); Miriam Nyamai (from NASSP to MeerKAT); Wendy Williams (from NASSP to the Square Kilometre Array Observatory); and Xola Ndaliso (from NASSP to Operating SALT).

Stories of NASSP graduates who have branched into other fields included talks by Given Phaladi, entitle The world of PHYnance; Mellony Spark, entitled From NASSP to Impact Investing in Africa; and from Themba Gqaza, whose talk, entitled Data Science for Health, was inspired by a personal crisis which lead him him to an organisation which aims to build a world where personal, uninterrupted healthcare is available to everyone, not just a chance few.

The symposium highlighted how crucial it is to share stories like these to understand the real impact of human capital development programmes on people’s lives and our societies. Investments are amplified as the first generations become the teachers and supervisors of the next.

NASSP graduate Pfesesani van Zyl talked about her journey from NASSP to NRF-SARAO (HartRAO).

NASSP graduate Nondumiso Khumalo presented her journey into SANSA as a Space Weather Forecaster.

“I was thrilled by the enthusiasm of everyone that I met, loved catching up with many that I haven’t seen for a long time, and felt inspired by the wonderful stories that we heard,” said Dr Rosalind Skelton of the NRF-SAAO. “We look forward to what the future holds for the astronomy and space science communities in South Africa and the role NASSP will continue to play – thank you all.”

The inspirational talks over the two-day symposium can be viewed at:

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