NASA engineer outlines vision for regional space program
“Reach for the stars.”
That was the message to Cayman Islands youngsters from a Caribbean woman who has, in academic terms, gone to infinity and beyond.
Camille Alleyne came from humble beginnings in Trinidad to work for NASA as a scientist for the International Space Station. And she believes there is nothing to stop students in the Cayman Islands and across the Caribbean from following in her footsteps.
Ms Alleyne, whose Brightest Star foundation aims to help educate and inspire other young women to become world leaders in the traditionally male-dominated fields of science, technology, engineering and math, said self belief and hard work were the key ingredients to her success.
Speaking at the opening of the University College of the Cayman Islands’ STEM conference last week, Ms Alleyne said coming from the Caribbean should not be a barrier to success. She even outlined a vision for a future Caribbean space program involving a network of satellites monitoring the region.
Ms Alleyne said there is no limit to what students in the region could achieve, telling girls, “science is not just for the boys.”
She added: “My message would be believe in yourself, you can do anything. We have a tendency to think subjects like math and science are just for boys and that’s not true. Girls can do those subjects, too. It’s a matter of believing in yourself, working hard and pursuing your dreams.
“I always worked hard and I always had a proclivity for math and science – those were my favorite subjects in high school and those were the subjects I excelled at.”
She said they were hard fields to get into, and it had taken a lot of dedication for her to get to where she is.
She said she believes education is highly valued in the Caribbean, but that teaching styles need to progress, particularly in science and math.
“What we have to think about is moving from where we are, which is a lot of rote memorization of scientific concepts to more hands on activities in the classroom, that is what is going to make the difference. We have to evolve our STEM education to incorporate those things.
“The key is that it is not just about throwing out facts and figures and memorizing formula, it’s about how do these math concepts relate to the real world, how can we relate it to every day life.
“When students see that, it doesn’t become a chore any more, it just becomes something they love to do.”
Inspiring a new generation of math and science experts in the Caribbean could ultimately lead to the region developing its own space program, she said.
“I believe some time in the future the Caribbean could get involved in space in the way developing nations get involved – through developing satellites.
“The data from satellites can assist with all the challenges that we face in this region. Right now we don’t have a dedicated satellite that looks over our region.”