Alumni enthuse students to study at local university: “We want to prevent a brain drain”

POSTED: 12/11/13 6:27 PM

St. Maarten – Students of Milton Peters College and St. Dominic High School had an inspiring morning at the University of St. Martin yesterday that encouraged them to take the first steps into higher education at home. Students of the Hospitality and Tourism Management – Ebru Tascioglu, Chanice Rombley and Mishe Ebanks – hosted the event together with the Chamber of Commerce, whose president Tamara Leonard is the adjunct instructor for Hospitality and Tourism Management.

“Too many students are leaving the island without going to USM first,” Leonard said. “If you start your studies here you will leave as a more mature student. You are the future of St. Maarten.”

Leonard said that the Chamber of Commerce is working with local companies to establish a paid work experience program. To take part in this program, students must be studying at USM. One company has already made two work experience places available, Leonard said.

The Chamber of Commerce President acknowledged alumni of the university who are now holding key positions in the local job market. She mentioned Vromi-Minister Maurice Lake as one of the USM-graduates.

Thomas Riemersma, who reads business law at USM and is also the university’s coordinator for joint ventures, presented the new Bachelor International Facility Management program. “We want you to stay in St. Maarten and study at USM,” Riemersma said. “We want to prevent a brain drain. A lot of students that go to the Netherlands or the USA drop out, don’t get a degree and are stuck with high study financing debts.”

Students entering the Facility Management program will receive study financing from the Ministry of Education. The study consists of two years at USM and two years at the Hanze University in Groningen where English will be the language of instruction.

Chadilla Notais, Lucrecia Lynch and Sharine Daniel – all USM-grads, offered testimonials to the students that contained one common denominator: focus – an element that later on came back in a presentation by Alston Lourens, the public relations officer and junior project advisor at his mother’s ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports.

Especially Lynch gave the students an inspirational message. A senior sales account manager at the TelEm Group of companies, Lynch told how she dropped out of college and was academically expelled before landing a mediocre job in New York that paid less than $10 an hour. When she came to her senses, she realized that she wanted a different life; she returned to St. Maarten, and went to study at USM in 1996. “I had my eye on a position and I did not know what it would take to accomplish this. I wanted to succeed and I did not want to work for $10 an hour anymore. Lynch took an associate degree in business management from USM followed by a bachelor’s in business administration with a focus on management.

“Don’t follow my path,” Lynch warned the students with a reference to her early days as a school dropout. “Stay focused and just go to school. Most people think that once they have a qualification, they have arrived. But every day is an exam, every day is an opportunity to become a better person.”

Similar stories followed from USM-grad Sharine Daniel, who holds an associate’s degree in General Liberal Arts from USM, a bachelor’s in accounting from Howard University, a masters in science and accounting from the University of Maryland and an MBA with focus on finance from Pace University. Daniel now heads the internal audit department at utilities company Gebe. “My career would not have been possible without USM,” Daniel told the students.

Alston Lourens drilled his audience on student-life abroad. “Consider yourself part of the future of St. Maarten,” he began. “You will need a high level of maturity to succeed and a strong focus to do your study in the shortest possible time.

Asked what the most common pitfalls re of studying abroad, quite some students offered one word: drugs.

Lourens said that culture shock is “the biggest one” followed by a lack of support, financial issues, and the separation from family and local organizations. Remarkably, the same pitfalls face students who return home after their studies. Two additional hurdles are lack of experience and the notion of being overqualified for a job.

Why would students return to St. Maarten? “Because St. Maarten needs you,” Lourens said, adding that family ties and ties to local organizations are also reasons to come back.

Studying at USM will protect students from many pitfalls, Lourens added. “You are able to combine work and study, gain experience, and do some networking. You will also have a direct influence on the local economy and you have the support from the local alumni network.

The last speaker at the meeting was Peggy-Ann Dros, head the department of labor affairs who told the students in an entertaining an interactive presentation that a lot of work permits are sought in the fields of education and hospitality – indicating that there are opportunities there for local job seekers. Dros said that last year her department issued 3009 work permits, that youth unemployment is 29.4 percent and that vacancy registration increased by 40.5 percent last year. As far as asking for help to find a job, Dros pointed out, her department handled 78 requests from men and 106 from women. “Apparently men are afraid to ask for help.” She concluded.

The students also saw a parade of USM-alumni who have now a career in St. Maarten – from Solaika Serbony (Human Resources manager at the Westin) and Paula Gordon (assistant at the secretariat with the technical distribution at Gebe) to Kary Scot,(senior human resource administrator at Gebe) and Abegail Richardson, (executive secretary to the Secretary General at the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication).

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