Three hundred plus secondary school students from twelve Caribbean countries, eight days of field trips, lectures, debates and social events, a visiting scientist who works on equipment for space missions and leading scientists from industry, medicine and academia...what could this be? Nothing less than the 6th Caribbean Youth Science Forum of course!
The Caribbean Youth Science Forum - or CYSF, in short - is a dynamic, annual event which is hosted by the National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (NIHERST) with the support of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education (STTE). Some say it's the best kept secret of NIHERST, but others beg to differ...as each year the organisers are pressured to open up the Forum to larger numbers of participants!
First undertaken in 1999 as a project sponsored by the Organization of American States (OAS), the CYSF has become a key feature of the NIHERST calendar, being staged as an annual event since 2003. Its just concluded sixth edition has stayed true to its main objectives:
to develop innovative informal approaches and strategies to strengthen Science & Technology education in the region; to foster cooperation among Caribbean countries in Science & Technology popularisation; to encourage the pursuit of careers in Science and Technology; to promote interaction with regional and international scientists; to develop lasting friendships with students in other countries.
This year's CYSF took place during the period 29th July - 5th August 2007 and the Forum hosted participants from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago.
The Opening Ceremony was hosted at the spacious Graduation Pavilion of the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) at O'Meara and where the event was officially declared open by Dr. Cheryl Bennett, Associate Provost Quality Assurance and Accreditation of the UTT.
At the Opening Ceremony, students had their first introduction to the Forum's visiting scientist, Mr. Robert Rashford. The President and Chief Executive Officer of Genesis Engineering Solutions Incorporated, Robert Rashford was born in Jamaica, but now lives in the United States of America.
Honoured on several occasions by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the USA for his contributions to work on the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite and the Hubble Space Telescope, he was well-received by the young participants, who engaged him at every opportunity during the Forum, with questions on his work as a design engineer.
The week of activities were based both at UTT and the University of the West Indies St. Augustine campus, the latter where the students also boarded on halls of residence. Students were totally immersed in the sights, sounds and sensations of science during the Forum. Over the course of three afternoon sessions, they debated for and against on topics ranging from cell towers in neighbourhoods, to construction of aluminium smelters to scientific literacy of the general public and the possible role of science and technology in poverty eradication.
In two morning sessions, the three hundred-plus participants were shuttled to various destinations to see science in action at more than ten institutions including the Forensic Science Centre, the Asa Wright Nature Centre, the Caribbean New Media Group, Caribbean Airlines, and the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards. Some got to sit in a plane's cockpit, to understand the concepts of wildlife conservation, to see high-tech infrastructure in a food processing plant, and to understand the operations of winning, compressing and transporting liquefied natural gas.
Nine plenary lecture sessions enabled them to find out about the various programmes offered at the UTT, to understand the process of ideation to creation, to understand the intricacies of the development of science projects, and to learn more about various science disciplines including physics, medicine, and engineering. A formal dinner with scientists also provided greater opportunities for one-to-one interface between the students and the specialists.
The Forum was not without its special times for fun and despite the long hours of each day, the social activities were not to be overlooked in this Caribbean integration exercise. Participants took in their favourite 'flick' at movie night at Caribbean Cinemas 8, partied hearty at the C-Hall fete, trekked into the forest for a dip in Mermaid Pool, and engaged in fierce competition on Sports Day. A special concert event entitled "Caribbean Night" was put on by the participants and proved to the entire audience that scientists can sing, dance and act too!
The CYSF wound up on Sunday 5th August, with all participants wishing that they could come back again next year. It will however be another cohort of students who will derive the benefit and contribute to the staging of the next CYSF in 2008. Who knows? Perhaps even that CYSF will upstage this one in being the most dynamic, exciting and rewarding forum in science for our future regional scientists!