World Health Organization redesignates collaborating center at SGU

As public health has become even more of a focus with the emergence of COVID-19 worldwide, St. George’s University continues to be a beacon for education, research, and service collaboration in the Caribbean. The World Health Organization (WHO), together with its regional representative, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), recently re-designated SGU’s Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine (DPHPM) as a Collaborating Center (WHO CC) on Environmental and Occupational Health through August 2023.

Such centers are established to support global health initiatives implemented by the WHO, for the benefit of all member countries. The designation provides a foundation for collaborating centers to develop partnerships with national and international authorities, as well as to generate resources from funding partners.

Dr. Christine Richards

“The continued efforts by faculty and students as well as civil society, governmental and international partnerships demonstrate the benefit of collaboration in public health, which the WHO CC symbolizes,” said Dr. Christine Richards, DPHPM interim chair, who leads the Collaborating Center with SGU faculty member Odran Nigel Edwards.

The WHO CC was originally established on the SGU campus in 2012. The DPHPM, together with the Windward Island Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF), also located on SGU’s campus, are uniquely positioned to lend support, having collaborated on several environmental research programs that addressed occupational health among nutmeg workers and health care workers, renewable energy, land degradation, food and water borne diseases, and zoonotic diseases and presently the response to COVID-19.

SGU’s DPHPM, along with WINDREF, also serves as the Caribbean’s only United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Regional Collaborating Centre (RCC) since 2013. The UNFCCC RCC’s primary goal is to work with public and private sector organizations, as well as government agencies, to enhance the implementation of clear technology activities for the Caribbean the region in order to achieve carbon reduction targets to mitigate climate change.

– Brett Mauser

PhD grad: COVID-19 spread resembles prior dengue pandemics

The daughter of a Grenadian, Karin Schiøler, PhD ’06, frequented the Spice Isle as a child, visiting her Grandfather and family in La Digue, St. Andrew’s. Yet there was a period of 18 years where her life and studies brought her elsewhere. She didn’t return until the early 2000s when, while living in Martinique, she first realized that a curious mosquito-borne disease was posing a serious public health threat to the Caribbean and other tropical regions.

Dr. Schiøler seized the opportunity to undertake a research project on dengue in Grenada and simultaneously earned her PhD from St. George’s University, the second such degree to be awarded by SGU’s School of Graduate Studies. She has gone on to study mosquito-borne diseases primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa, and is currently an associate professor in the Global Health section at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

SGU News reached out to Dr. Schiøler to learn more about the research she has done, specifically on dengue, and how it applies to the current healthcare situation surrounding coronavirus (COVID-19).

St. George’s University: According to the CDC, up to 400 million people worldwide get infected with dengue each year. Why is the disease such a challenge to control?

Dr. Schiøler: The disease is difficult to control because it is transmitted by a mosquito that is extremely well adapted to the domestic environment of most tropical areas. In other words, it lives in and around our houses. We provide the water containers for its larvae and the blood for its egg production—a rather smart setup, at least for the mosquito. Eliminating the mosquito in an environmentally safe way has proven very difficult. At the same time, vaccine development has taken decades, and although a dengue vaccine was recently marketed in some countries, its wider use is limited as it is deemed safe only for those who have already had dengue at least once.

SGU: What parallels can you draw between dengue and what’s taking place with COVID-19?

Dr. Schiøler: Dengue epidemics are acute in the sense that they erupt more or less unexpectedly, rage through the population and then disappear again after weeks or months. The real problem is not as much the experience of the disease, but when all of a sudden a large proportion of the society has it and are home sick or hospitalized, then you have to worry not just for the individual but for society at large in terms of social and economic consequences. What we are currently experiencing with COVID-19 at a global level, many countries have experienced previously due to dengue. That is a healthcare system under siege and the disease taking hold of the entire society, often triggering a health emergency or even a state of emergency declaration.

About a third of those who are infected by dengue virus experience symptoms, and a fraction of those people die from dengue. In between, dengue may cause a range of different symptoms and severities, just like COVID-19. So another parallel that can be drawn is that of human behavior—risk understanding and risk perceptions. How do people perceive COVID-19 and the risk of infection, and how does that affect their behavior? How much can you control this behavior if people don’t feel at risk? In a way, I think COVID was due to happen one way or the other. It’s a large-scale version of what we see with national or regional epidemics, like dengue, where efforts to control the disease by targeting the mosquito often falls short as risk perception is relatively low among homeowners compared to the efforts required to keep the mosquito out of our houses and lives.

“What we are currently experiencing with COVID-19 at a global level, many countries have experienced previously due to dengue.”

 

SGU: How have you addressed the persistence and spread of dengue?

Dr. Schiøler: My colleagues and I focus on understanding the dengue mosquito and its habitat, from the household to a wider community level including institutions and specific commercial settings. I believe that this understanding remains the key to dengue control. One of the projects that I’m directly involved with in Zanzibar, Tanzania, is an effort to integrate dengue control into primary school curriculum so that children can learn and execute mosquito control adapted to the realities of their household and wider community. It’s a mixed-methods study where we aim to determine how the children perceive dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases, what they can and can’t do as children in terms of control activities, and what’s actually accepted in that particular society. In another study, also on Zanzibar, we are working in collaboration with the tourism sector to replace the heavy reliance on chemical insecticides with environmentally sustainable mosquito control measures at hotels.

SGU: How would you describe your experience studying dengue in the Caribbean?

Dr. Schiøler: My thesis focused around understanding who the main risk groups are when an arbovirus like dengue is transmitted in the population. I studied how it spread and how a local active surveillance system worked to address it. In collaboration with both public and private health care providers, I actively went out and pursued cases and set up a system with rapid diagnostic turnover and response to the health authorities.  The aim was to predict outbreaks by picking up on the early cases, and then activate vector control and public dissemination before epidemic onset. My study showed that, after diagnosing the index case, there was a seven to eight week lull before a full-blown epidemic. We learned how to react to the risk of a new virus and how it is likely to spread through a small-island population. This experience was groundbreaking for me in that it gave me the first experience of working across disciplines and with different institutions and actors from the nurses and doctors forming the frontline of Grenada’s health care system and officials at the Grenada Ministry of Health to researchers at the CDC in Puerto Rico, who helped me set up advanced diagnostic techniques in Grenada.

SGU: What led you down the path to becoming an infectious disease researcher?

Dr. Schiøler: For me, research has always been about curiosity. Why is dengue even a public health problem? Why has nobody solved this problem already? Of course, the reason is that dengue is a complex disease—it’s not that easy to solve. You may get a few answers to the problem, but that will create new questions, and you keep seeking new answers for these questions. It’s perhaps frustrating at times, yet very rewarding. I started out fairly narrowly in terms of an immunological interest in dengue symptoms, but that interest lead me in into new directions, where today my primary focus is more on the entomological aspects of disease transmission and the inclusion of the community and other stakeholders in finding sustainable solutions to mosquito control. It’s the prospect of change that makes it exciting, and the realization that there isn’t necessarily a simple biomedical answer to diseases such as dengue. One can argue the same in the case of COVID-19.

– Brett Mauser

 

SGU graduate Karin Schiøler, PhD, with Dean of Graduate Studies Dr. Calum Macpherson.

Novel NIH-funded master’s degree program offers deep dive into bioethics research

As the world eagerly awaits the results of groundbreaking research and clinical trials during the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of bioethics—particularly research ethics—has been brought into focus.

A new collaboration between St. George’s University, Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro (UAQ) in Mexico, and Clarkson University in New York, funded by the NIH Fogarty International Center, allows research fellows from low- to middle-income countries (LMIC) to participate in a two-year online Master of Science in Bioethics (MScB) program through 2024. The goal of the program is to increase capacity for bioethics scholarship, research, research ethics review (IRBs), and publication in English- and Spanish-speaking countries of the Caribbean and Latin America.

“We collaboratively designed a bilingual curriculum that offers knowledge, skills training, and opportunities to conduct and publish research, and to become leaders in institutional and national policy, pedagogy, and clinical practice,” said Dr. Cheryl Cox Macpherson, head of bioethics in SGU’s Department of Clinical Skills, and director and principal investigator for the new program. “The diversity of those enrolled enriches the program by facilitating understanding and partnerships across different nations, cultures, disciplines, health systems, and languages.”

Dr. Cheryl Cox-Macpherson

The program is suitable for mid-career professionals looking to increase their understanding of research and bioethics, from doctors and veterinarians to lawyers, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals. With further development, she envisions delivering the program and creating opportunities for dual degree options at SGU.

“For people who are professionals in health, or on the periphery of healthcare, and have an interest in research ethics or ethics consultation, there is an increasing need for these skills in today’s changing world,” Dr. Macpherson said. “Few physicians are trained to conduct ethics reviews or consultations, and even fewer veterinarians. This is a great opportunity for professionals who are looking to advance their credentials and their knowledge of research ethics.”

Maria de los Angeles Marina Adame Gayosso, the head of the Department for the Promotion of Education in Bioethics of the National Bioethics Commission in Mexico, is part of the charter class that began this fall. In addition to Mexico, the cohort is comprised of English- and Spanish-speaking students from LMICs such as Grenada, Guyana, and Honduras.

“I know what bioethics can do to help transform the lives of people, communities, and countries,” said Ms. Gayoso. “Our continent faces challenges at different levels that need to be analyzed and addressed from a bioethical perspective to generate public policies that are respectful of all forms of life. This program is designed to train leaders and turn students into agents of change for their countries and the region.”

“What we’ve done is really unique in that we are using online software to make it possible to enroll our trainees in both languages at the same time,” added Dr. Macpherson. “They’re talking to each other and working across languages, cultures, and borders.”

The program represents only the latest connection between SGU and the NIH Fogarty International Center, which supports revolutionary research and training in developing countries. As part of the newly launched Caribbean Research Ethics Education initiative (CREEi), SGU, UAQ, and Clarkson received NIH support to establish a one-year certificate program that featured graduate-level online and onsite bioethics courses from 2014 to 2019, which has evolved into the current two-year program. The NIH additionally has provided funding through Dr. Desiree LaBeaud’s laboratory at Stanford to the Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF), a 501(c)(3) research institute located on SGU’s True Blue campus.

The MScB will be supported by the NIH through 2024 and qualified and eligible individuals (must be a national of a regional LMIC) who are interested are invited to email Dr. Macpherson at ccox@sgu.edu.

– Brett Mauser

CREEi is supported by the NIH Fogarty International Center (FIC) Award #R25TW009731.

The Laboratory Personnel Behind SGU’s COVID Testing Site

Even before the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) reached the shores of Grenada, St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, together with the Government of Grenada and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), were prepared for it. With the proper equipment and a team led by two staff members—both SGU graduates—in the SVM’s molecular virology lab, the virus has had minimal impact on the island, with just 27 cases and zero deaths reported.

“We are grateful for all the individuals, volunteers, and organizations whose commitment to a common cause has helped minimize the effects of the virus in Grenada,” said Dr. Calum Macpherson, dean of the School Graduate Studies and SGU’s director of research. “It has been a complex operation, from the team of nurses and physicians that completed the nasopharyngeal swabs led by Dr. Kathy Yearwood, director of the University Health Services, to the School of Veterinary Medicine team led by Dean Neil Olson. They have done a tremendous job, navigating the university and the country through a very difficult time with a testing operation that was accessible, accurate, and efficient.”

SGU’s lab served as Grenada’s national testing site at the onset of the pandemic. The effort has been facilitated by a number of staff members. In particular, SGU graduates Trevor Noel, MPH ’03, PhD ’17, Bhumika Sharma, PhD ’20, Vanessa Matthew-Belmar, MSc ’16, have tested more than 2,000 St. George’s University students, faculty, and staff, over 1,200 members of the Grenadian community, as well as individuals arriving in Grenada via plane or cruise ship.

“In the beginning, we knew we had an equipped laboratory and the personnel with specific molecular biology training who could step in during this emergency to take on COVID testing,” said Dr. Melinda Wilkerson, chair of pathobiology in the SVM.

In addition to Dr. Sharma and Ms. Matthew, Dr. Wilkerson praised the efforts of Associate Dean of Research Dr. Sonia Cheetham-Brow, molecular virologist Dr. Mercedes Abeya, and faculty members Dr. Andy Alhassan and Mr. Dan Fitzpatrick, as well as the leadership provided by Drs. Macpherson, Olson, and Noel, the field research director for SGU and deputy director of the campus-based Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF) who was instrumental in coordinating with the Ministry of Health, Government Cabinet Ministers and the SGU testing team regarding sample collection, on-time delivery of samples to the lab, and the reporting of results and discussion with the Ministry of Health, Grenada Government Cabinet of Ministers and PAHO.

“We couldn’t be prouder of the professional work that our entire team has done in the face of a daunting challenge,” Dr. Olson said. “There has been plenty of uncertainty around the coronavirus, and the thorough diagnostic testing has provided not only answers but peace of mind for so many people in Grenada.”

In the early stages of the pandemic, Dr. Sharma and Ms. Matthew-Belmar extracted and processed 30-70 samples each day working up to eight hours, seven days a week, for three months. COVID testing required the use of similar techniques and materials, such as primers and probes, used for RNA extraction in a standard PCR test. Results were received within eight hours.

“To find out if COVID is present, we would exponentially amplify, using PCR, any virus gene sequences in the sample,” said Dr. Sharma, an instructor in the SVM’s Department of Pathobiology. “If the virus is there, the primers and probes would adhere to it and produce multiple copies of the RNA.”

Their work continued into the summer months and now into the fall, not only as an on-campus but in helping the Grenada Ministry of Health develop its own testing facility, training the new facility’s lab staff and troubleshooting initial qPCR testing. The campus-based site still operates as one of approximately 250 quality control labs around the world overseen by the World Health Organization (WHO). Results from SGU’s lab have been in 100 percent concordance with the expected test results from WHO.

“It gives me a sense of pride to give back to the country what I have learned,” said Ms. Matthew-Belmar, the head laboratory technician in the SVM. “I’m grateful for SGU, where I have learned many different testing techniques.”

“When there’s a pandemic, everyone has to come together, regardless of whether you’re working under medicine or are in the veterinary field,” Dr. Sharma added. “I feel so proud to be able to do something helpful for this community. It has been a great experience.”

– Brett Mauser

SGS Class of 2020 Encouraged to Embrace Its Uniqueness and the Prospects of Tomorrow

Dr. Calum Macpherson, SGS Dean

The School of Graduate Studies virtual commencement ceremony began with Dr. Calum Macpherson, dean of the School of Graduate Studies, and the University’s chancellor, Dr. Charles R . Modica, who offered the 2020 graduating class a warm welcome as well as congratulatory remarks.

Although the current health climate prompted St. George’s University to move its customary in-person event online, the 2020 School of Graduate Studies (SGS) commencement ceremony nevertheless featured the celebratory nature and well wishes that have become a hallmark of events held each year in Grenada. The virtual ceremony was held on held on Saturday, May 30.

In total, the class’s 150 graduands from 34 countries were bestowed degrees such as a Master of Public Health, Master of Business Administration, Master of Arts, Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy. In addition, SGU hosts the Gamma Kappa chapter of the Delta Omega Honors Society and inducted the top 10 percent of this year’s MPH graduates into the chapter for demonstrating excellence in education and scholarship in research and service.

To begin the online ceremony—the first of its kind in the University’s 43-year history—Dr. Calum Macpherson, dean of the School of Graduate Studies, and the University’s chancellor, Dr. Charles R. Modica, offered the 2020 graduating class a warm welcome as well as congratulatory remarks. They then gave the virtual stage to this year’s speaker, the Honorable Nickolas Steele, Grenada’s Minister for Health, Social Security, and International Business, who shared his excitement for the graduates’ future.

“Your class is unique in so many ways,” said Minister Steele. “Embrace that uniqueness and let it be the beacon that guides your future steps. You are armed with not just any education but with a St. George’s University education—an institution with not just a spirit but a mantra of overcoming challenges. So, go forward, onwards and upwards with your personal stock, the tools you have been given by SGU, the benefits of the battles you have just fought, and the certainty in the opportunities of tomorrow’s uncertainty.

“The difficult we do today, the impossible—tomorrow,” added Minister Steele. “You are the product of the very institution that epitomizes this and as such, the difficult you will do today, you will graduate today; the impossible you will do tomorrow, you will change the world.”

Class speaker Tanya Martelly, MBA ’20, offered a few heartfelt words on behalf of her fellow graduands, echoing the minister’s words acknowledging that this year had been filled with uncertainty and a range of emotions, including fear, anxiety, anticipation, and excitement.

“However, regardless of the origins of the emotions we felt,” stated Ms. Martelly. “What caused each of us to start our academic journey was courage, and a desire to move forward in our lives. Today, I encourage you to seek and ascertain what your purpose is in this life and decide on the impact you want to have on this world beyond yourself. With courage and God’s leading, you will be able to make the difference that this world so desperately needs. God bless you all in your academic and professional endeavors and congratulations.”

The School of Graduate Studies was launched 17 years after establishing a successful  School of Medicine, further evolving St. George’s University as an international center for excellence. Last year, the school celebrated 25 years of excellence, having graduated more than 1,300 students. At present, the SGS has 34 different graduate degree programs, and also provides students the opportunity to earn dual degrees such as the DVM/MSc, DVM/MBA, MD/MSc, and MD/MPH, which has more than 1,000 graduates and celebrated its 20th anniversary, last year.

 

–Ray-Donna Peters

 

School of Graduate Studies Celebrates 25 Years of Excellence

Seventeen years after establishing a successful School of Medicine, St. George’s University further evolved as an international center for excellence with the launch of the School of Graduate Studies (SGS). Spearheaded by SGU’s second Vice Chancellor, Dr. Keith B. Taylor, it was his vision for international expansion which led not only to forming SGS but to creating the Office of Research, the Panel on Research and Scholarly Activity and most noteworthy the founding of the Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF)in 1994.

This year, the school celebrated 25 years of excellence, having graduated more than 1,300 students.

“Dr. Taylor recognized that if a tertiary education institution wanted to enhance its excellence in medical education, this could be done through expanding its academic offerings,” said Dr. Calum Macpherson, dean of the School of Graduate Studies and director of research at SGU. “Today, SGS aims to achieve and sustain excellence in every area of its graduate programs, evolving its reputation as a world-class school, and enriching international, national, and regional communities through the outcomes of its programs and the skills of its graduates.”

At present, the SGS has 34 different graduate degree programs, including a Doctor of Philosophy, Master of Business Administration, Master of Arts, and Master of Education programs. In addition, students can earn dual degrees such as the DVM/MSc, DVM/MBA, MD/MSc, and MD/MPH, which has more than 1,000 graduates and is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Established in 1999, SGU’s Master of Public Health program has been fully accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) since July 2010, having recently earned CEPH re-accreditation of the MPH program through 2022. According to Dr. Christine Richards, chair of public health and preventive medicine, that makes it the only accredited program in the region and only one of five such programs accredited by the CEPH outside of the United States.

With approximately 25 percent of graduates hailing from Grenada, the School of Graduate Studies has had a significant impact on Grenada and research in the Caribbean as a whole—especially on the quality of jobs and the level of Grenadians entering senior posts in the country and within the region. Many SGU grads have gone on to hold high-profile positions in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), occupy top placements in Grenadian financial and health institutions, and assume the role of Grenada’s Chief Medical Officer, including Drs. Carlene Radix and George Mitchell.

 

“Today, SGS aims to achieve and sustain excellence in every area of its graduate programs, evolving its reputation as a world-class school, and enriching international, national, and regional communities through the outcomes of its programs and the skills of its graduates.”

Calum Macpherson, Dean of the School of Graduate Studies

 

In terms of research, substantial work has been completed in collaboration with the Ministries of Health, Education, and Agriculture through WINDREF, also commemorating its 25th year. The foundation is a non-profit charitable trust which attracts considerable contributions of grants and donations from international organizations and private donors. WINDREF has hosted several dinners at the House of Lords in the UK with notable speakers, such as Lord Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Olympic Games Organizing Committee. It has also held a number of fundraisers, including one in 2000 at the United Nations in New York, which raised US $400,000, of which $200,000 was donated to renovating Grenada’s General Hospital.

“WINDREF brings in approximately US $1.2 million a year in research funds,” said Dr. Trevor Noël, deputy director, WINDREF. “It is also one of the largest employers of our MPH graduates, providing not only employment but exciting research opportunities for Grenadians so they don’t have to move abroad to become research scientists. They now have the opportunity to work on well-funded research projects right here in Grenada.”

The foundation’s largest research projects have included partnerships with SGU’s Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine (DPHPM) and the Ministry of Health covering both noncommunicable and infectious disease research through the lens of their public health and epidemiological importance in a small island developing state. Appropriate, applied research has been the foundation’s focus with practical solutions such as instituting the Touch Toe Test—a simple examination to help diabetes sufferers detect loss of sensitivity in their feet. Along with a PSA, the program potentially reached thousands of Grenadians in hopes of resulting in a reduction of diabetic foot amputations.

Similarly, with the introduction of the Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) epidemic in 2014, WINDREF also collaborated with Drs. Clare Heath and Desiree LaBeaud of Stanford University to study the epidemiology and long-term effects on those infected with the virus. At present, the foundation has partnered with renowned Dengue expert, Dr. Timothy Endy from SUNY Upstate Medical University on an incidence study of infection within the SGU student population, as well as the immunology of the primary infection and the feasibility to support dengue vaccine development.

With much of the School of Graduate Studies’ research conducted on its True Blue Campus, SGU also houses the first WHO Collaborating Centre on Environmental and Occupational Health in the Caribbean, the Global Water Partnership (GWP)’s Caribbean network, and one of six regional collaborating centers of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in the world.

“One of the largest research focuses in the future will be the effects of climate change,” added Dr. Macpherson. “In addition to the environment, it’s going to have an impact on both human and animal health. We hope to be at the cutting edge of research into this global problem. Our capacity to develop research protocols and partnerships will certainly be of importance regionally but will also have relevance globally.”

– Ray-Donna Peters

Career Day Helps Students Choose Path Toward Successful Future

For more than a decade, St. George’s University and Rotaract Club of Grenada Career Day has been important not only for the future of Grenadian citizens but for the island as a whole.

This month, the True Blue campus welcomed hundreds of secondary school students and young adults from across the nation to explore a diverse range of career opportunities and the educational tools to help them reach their goals. It allowed attendees to mix with Grenada’s industry leaders and other respected professionals in smaller group settings to evaluate how they can develop themselves, their families, and their country.

“St. George’s University provides an ideal setting to offer this kind of guidance to students in answering the oft-difficult question of what career to choose, given this constantly evolving and competitive global marketplace,” said Colin Dowe, associate dean of admissions at SGU. “It is critical that we encourage our young Grenadians to explore non-traditional and emerging disciplines, which can foster both personal and national development.”

The SGU/Rotaract Club Career Day experience featured dozens of presentations utilizing its Career Track System, as well as interactive sessions led by current St. George’s University students. Eight different career tracks, ranging from agri-business and fashion to communications and meteorology, were set up in each of the major halls on campus. In addition to presentations for the students, the event featured the popular and informative Parents Session led by Mr. Dowe. The special session covered a range of topics—from financing your education to responding to the challenges faced by today’s students.

“I’m elated that SGU offered a special Parents Session at Career Day,” said Camme Roberts McIntosh, a Cherry Hill resident and mother of three. “I found the discussion on letting go and allowing your child to make their own decisions most helpful. It’s easier said than done when dealing with my eldest son, but I’m learning how to step back, release the reins a little bit, and trust him.”

“This is our second time coming to the Parents Session,” stated Petal Duncan from Laborie, St. Paul’s. “My husband and I were here last year when our daughter attended Career Day. We thought it was informative then and found it even more valuable this time around. There’s something very comforting about knowing you’re doing all you can to help prepare your child for university life and their future career. We thought it was important to be here and our daughter felt so too—in fact, every parent should be here.”

By holding Career Day, SGU’s goal is to assist students and parents in making informed career choices and motivating them along their journey towards educational and career fulfillment. As the largest private employer in Grenada, the University makes a point to fulfill its mandate as a good corporate citizen, embracing the opportunity to equip students with the tools to build a successful career path.

– Ray-Donna Peters

Commonwealth Conference Focuses on Student Success

 

More than 350 educators from Grenada and around the world descended on St. George’s University for the Council for Education in the Commonwealth (CEC) 2019 annual conference. Highlighting the presentations at the two-day event, titled “Students: Our Common Wealth – A Focus on Student Success,” was a keynote address by The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, the second secretary-general of the Commonwealth from the Caribbean and the first woman to hold the post.

“Students who are educated to think creatively will have a distinctive advantage,” Secretary-General Scotland said. “They will be equipped to master the new ideas and new areas of knowledge and will have truly portable, flexible, applicable skills for the future. They will be able to collaborate across cultural and disciplinary boundaries and thrive in enterprises that have not yet even been invented.”

To this end, she proposed four pillars for building a “common wealth” among Commonwealth students:

  • Learning for life – with readily available skills-based training and higher education programs that respond to market needs
  • Employment – as a focus for ensuring brighter prospects and widening opportunity within the global development agenda
  • Entrepreneurship – so that enterprise and innovation create employment and sustainable growth
  • Engagement – to encourage well-informed consultation and responsiveness to the needs and aspirations of all.

“This can only be achieved through education,” the Secretary-General said. “Through firm commitment always and everywhere to do our utmost to treasure and support students our common wealth.”

The 2019 conference marked the first time that the CEC’s annual event had been held in the Caribbean region.

“A conference of this nature does one thing—it inspires,” said Samantha Antoine-Purcell, Principal, Westmorland Secondary School. “It inspires you to think beyond the usual. It inspires you to try new things, new approaches, and new perspectives so that at the end of the day, the student wins. Judging from the high caliber of presenters, which included educators, principals, students and others in the industry, we were able to have a really rich discourse because the perspectives were so varied. I believe the biggest takeaway for me and my fellow educators is to make sure that what we learn here today, we adapt, and we follow through.”

“We were honored to host the first-ever CEC annual conference in the Caribbean,” said Dr. Glen Jacobs, Provost, St. George’s University. “SGU’s faculty and students represent over 140 countries across the globe, including more than 20 percent of our students who hail from Commonwealth countries. This conference provided the kind of association and diversity we value on our campus. We were delighted to welcome international and local representatives from throughout the commonwealth to share their ideas on addressing how educational institutions can make a difference and ensure students get the most out of their studies and be successful.”

Currently celebrating its 60th anniversary, this year’s Council for Education in the Commonwealth conference was designed to explore the main challenges facing education provision across the 53 member states. In addition to the CEC annual conference being held for the first time ever in the Caribbean, it was also the second-ever held outside of the United Kingdom. The Council’s 2021 conference will be held in Kenya.

– Ray-Donna Peters

Grenada Class of 2019 Inspired to Bloom

In a riveting speech, H.E. Mrs. Akima Paul Lambert, Grenada’s Ambassador to the Holy See and keynote speaker at the 2019 Grenada commencement ceremony at St. George’s University, encouraged the new graduates to see that their past struggles often provided the best teaching moments.

These challenges and conquests have provided inspiration for the nearly 420 graduates from 31 countries. The 2019 class included more than 230 students from the School of Arts and Sciences, and 110 from the School of Graduate Studies, with one PhD graduate in attendance. Medical doctorates were conferred on 77 new physicians from the School of Medicine. Ceremonies for the Schools of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine will take place at New York City’s Lincoln Center in June.

“Graduands, I beseech you to go forth in your authentic selves, bring your light of change to the world,” said Ambassador Paul Lambert, who as both a diplomat and solicitor advocate, champions issues related to international economic development and human rights. She was one of the youngest awardees of the United Nations Global 500 Award for services to the environment.

She went on to reference three Grenadian sayings that share lessons that benefited her in her much accomplished life. “Do not succumb to the shadows of regression or prejudice and frame your challenges as your finest teachings. Burn bright around the globe as proud agents of change, proud citizens of the world and proud graduates of St. George’s University. Bloom in your dry season.”

In addition to the three lessons imparted by the keynote speaker, in her valedictory address, Nanditha Guruvaiah, BSc ’19, offered three ingredients in order to succeed at SGU—willpower, a plan, and not enough time in the day.

“The will to succeed, the aspiration to win, and the impulse to maximize your full potential are the keys that will unlock the pathway to individual greatness,” said Ms. Guruvaiah. “St. George’s University has given us the key that will unlock a future of endless opportunities. Let us use it to solve global issues and become the change we want to see in this world.”

Also addressing her fellow graduates was the class speaker for the School of Graduate Studies, Tyann Gabriel, MD ’15. She too offered up her own nine lessons as reminders for the students as they continued along their journeys. Her words of wisdom included having goals but remembering to be flexible, making time for self-reflection, seizing the moment, creating change, and knowing that the journey doesn’t end here today.

“Today I urge you, I challenge you to continue to think beyond,” said Dr. Gabriel. “I challenge you to go beyond. Go beyond all your uncertainties. Go beyond all your fears. I challenge each and everyone one of us to go beyond excellence.”

– Ray-Donna Peters

Student Success at the Center of Council for Education in the Commonwealth Annual Conference in Grenada

A total of 61 abstracts have been submitted for consideration to the annual conference of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth (CEC), which is to be hosted by St. George’s University on May 21-23, 2019. The conference, titled “Students: Our Common Wealth – A Focus on Student Success,” will hear from international representatives from throughout the commonwealth on how educational institutions can ensure students get the most out of their studies.

Submissions include oral presentations, poster presentations, and workshops, and cover a range of topics based on delegates’ extensive experience working in education. Topics on accessibility include “Inclusive Education in Ghana: Barriers Faced by Deaf and Blind Students in accessing Higher Education”; “An exploration of the inclusion of students with special needs in traditional schools in the Eastern Caribbean region”; and “Supporting Individuals with dis(Abilities) Through Universal Design in Learning”. Those interested in early years learning will have the chance to listen to presentations including “Designing a STEM Program for Delivery in Primary Education Settings; and “Can Reflection Help Junior Educators Teach Better?”. Extracurricular measures will also be up for discussion, as attendees consider an “Assessment of Pet Ownership on Student Academic Performance.”

The conference will also showcase a Technology Test Kitchen, an interactive space offering a hands-on experience for attendees to learn and explore how to integrate and apply technologies for educational purposes.

Conference attendees will include The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, who will deliver a keynote address. It is hoped that a delegation from the University of Nairobi will also be in attendance to prepare the ground for the CEC’s conference in 2021, which it will host. A delegation from the University of Namibia, which hosted the 2019 conference, will be led by Professor Kenneth Matengu.

“We are delighted to welcome international delegates from across the Commonwealth to our conference on the theme of student success,” said Sonny Leong CBE, Chairman of the CEC. The fact that these include representatives from the University of Namibia, our former hosts, and the University of Nairobi who will host us in two years’ time, demonstrates the value of these international events in creating lasting pan-Commonwealth networks.”

Dr. G. Richard Olds, President of St. George’s University, said, “I am pleased that the response to our call for abstracts has resulted in so many responses on a wide range of topics. SGU’s faculty and students represent some 140 countries around the world, and this conference is an excellent opportunity for them to share their experience with Commonwealth education leaders, as well as hearing new perspectives from our esteemed attendees.”