Caribbean youths gear up for pioneering science and sustainability competition

In the Diaspora

Dr. Jeremy N. A. Matthews is Associate Editor at the American Institute of Physics (AIP) College Park, Maryland, USA, and a news writer and book reviews editor for AIP’s Physics Today magazine. Originally from Guyana, he grew up in Tortola, British Virgin Islands and in the US.

By Jeremy Matthews

in the diasporaWith less than two weeks to go, the search is intensifying for the most creative minds to enlist in a regional sustainability competition that’s a first of its kind. Sponsored by the financial services corporation, Sagicor, the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), and the nonprofit Caribbean Science Foundation (CSF), the Sagicor Visionaries Challenge is a secondary school and/or community-targeting science competition aimed at boosting the region’s food, health, energy, and water security. It is doing so by recruiting the region’s sharpest youth, and their adult mentors and supervisors, to wield the tools of science and technology for the good of their schools and/or communities—and for a chance at big cash prizes and other rewards.

An outgrowth of a proposed initiative to build Sustainable Caribbean Communities, and at the same time, address STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) education in the region, the Challenge operates to achieve the following goals: Boost institutional STEM capacity in secondary schools; Ignite interest among the region’s youth for innovation in STEM to address sustainability issues in their communities; and to apply knowledge gained from formal and informal education to building a more sustainable Caribbean.

For its inaugural year, the Challenge is open to students in the following participating countries: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago. The sponsors hope to extend the competition to other Caribbean countries in the coming years.

To participate, eligible secondary school students in eligible countries should first consult with school and community members about the local sustainability needs. Then they should conceive of a “mind-blowing” project, for example, designing a campaign to reduce the use of disposable water bottles, and with the help of a supervising school representative, submit the project to the Challenge website.  Contestants may form a team of his or her peers for support. The Challenge will also pair students with a mentor—an expert in science, technology, education, or business—who will guide them in the design and implementation of their projects.

But time is running out. The submission period for the National Competition—the competition between submissions within each country—began in November, and ends on 16 February – that’s this Saturday. Any entry that makes it will be posted online and voted on by the public. Then on 16 March, a panel of judges will choose Guyana’s National winner, who will go on to compete in the Regional Competition on 12-13 April in Barbados that will see the winners from all the participating countries.

Winners and runners-up from each National Competition will receive computerized mobile science and technology equipment, CXC-approved science kits, among other things. The National winners, and their supervisors, will also receive a 7-day, all-expenses-paid trip in July 2013 to Florida, where they will be treated to informal learning experiences at the Kennedy Space Centre, Disney’s Epcot Center, and the Museum of Science and Industry. After a recent visit to these venues, Sagicor’s Manager of Corporate Communications Marlene Chin said that she would now ask students the following questions: Do you think there are more stars over the North pole or South pole? Have you ever seen a tomato tree? How about sweet potatoes growing from an elevated vine?  If you had lunch with an astronaut, what would you want to know? Twelve teachers and twelve students from twelve different Caribbean countries will be going to Florida and when they return they will be encouraged to share their experiences with their peers. In addition to those rewards, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners of the Regional Competition will receive cash prizes of US$5000, $3000, and $1000, respectively.

The region is abuzz preparing for this competition, says University of South Florida Environmental Engineering professor Maya Trotz. A native of Guyana, and a visiting CSF scientist, Dr. Trotz visited many of the participating countries in 2012 and held workshops that drew more than 500 secondary school educators and thousands of students. “The response from both teachers and students was very encouraging; for the most part students got really into the project ideas without even hearing about the prizes,” she says. “We hope their enthusiasm continues and we see many applications by the deadline.” To date, 85 different teams have requested mentors for their projects and many more are likely working independently on theirs. West Demerara Secondary, Anna Regina Multilateral, Central, Corentyne Comprehensive, St. Roses, Queen’s College, Richard Ishmael, Annandale Secondary, Diamond Secondary, and Tutorial have so far submitted requests for mentors with St. Roses leading the group with four separate projects. Petal Punalall from the Ministry of Education in Guyana is also the local representative for the Caribbean Science Foundation and she has been leading
workshops with students to help prepare their exciting projects.

In the meantime, promotion of the Challenge, and recruitment of mentors, is underway, led by Dr. Trotz, her peers on the Sagicor Challenge Team, Dr. Jeanese Badenock, a Chemistry professor at the University of the West Indies
in Cave Hill Barbados, and Dr. Sheena Francis, a Biology
lecturer at the University of Technology in Jamaica, and with assistance from Barbados native, Dr. Cardinal Warde, an MIT Electrical Engineering professor and interim CSF director. Mentors from around the world have agreed to mentor the student teams. Dr. Suresh Narine, Director of the Institute of Applied Science & Technology is mentoring a team from Annandale Secondary. Dr. Ken Thomas, a Trinbagonian lecturer of environmental engineering at Auburn University in Alabama, has integrated the student projects into his undergraduate courses where his students act as researchers for the secondary school projects. He is currently doing this for Queen’s College and last semester did it for Ocean Academy in Caye Caulker, Belize. Dr. Vincent Adams, a Lindener who manages one of the largest US Department of Energy sites is matched with a team from Diamond Secondary. Guy Mothusi, a manager with PEER Consultants which received the highest award for an engineering project from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers is bringing his expertise from South Africa in sustainable community development to Diamond Secondary. Dr. Kofi Dalrymple, a UG graduate who currently does research at an exciting firm in Florida called Algenol was the first mentor matched for the entire visionaries project. He advised Miss Samantha Henry and her team from Anna Regina Multilateral and they have already submitted their application which really is a 250 word project description. He is also advising a team from St. Roses whose project focuses on a challenge in Greenfield.

If any professional, inside the region or abroad, would like to be a mentor, they should immediately go to the Challenge website at http:/www.sagicorvisionaries.org or email info@sagicorvisionaries.org. For more information on the Challenge, and to become engaged, everyone is invited to visit the website, and also to become a fan of the “Sagicor Visionaries” Facebook Page.

About the Sponsors
Sagicor is synonymous with world-class financial services. Their vision is “To be a great company committed to improving the lives of the people in the communities in which we operate.” Sagicor operates in 22 countries in the Caribbean, Latin America, the United Kingdom and the United States. Sagicor is committed to initiatives and developments that will enhance the long-term quality of life in the communities in which they operate.

The Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) was established in 1972 to conduct such examinations as it may think appropriate and award certificates and diplomas on the results of any such examinations so conducted. CXC’s mission is to provide the region with: syllabi of the highest quality; valid and reliable examinations and certificates of international repute for students of all ages, abilities and interests; and services to educational institutions in the development of syllabi, examinations and examinations administration in the most cost-effective way.

The Caribbean Science Foundation (CSF) was established as an independent non-profit non-governmental organization in 2010. The mission of the Caribbean Science Foundation (CSF) is to assist with the diversification of the economies of the Caribbean Region by harnessing science and technology for economic development, and to help raise the standard of living. Specifically, the CSF will: Stimulate technology‐based entrepreneurship; accelerate education reform that supports technology‐based entrepreneurship; and provide scientific and engineering advisory services to Caribbean governments.



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