"Much too often our environment and population go unnoticed because we're all so used to it," says Sarika Bhageratty, the winner of the national photo competition for fifth and sixth form pupils organised by the Geography Department at the University of the West Indies. "But pictures capture its real essence and I would love to educate and excite my classmates through photography."
The sixth former from St Francois Girls' College won the first prize of a digital camera with her image "Blue Meets Green", which will appear on the cover of the next STAN (St. Augustine News) glossy magazine, the quarterly newsletter of the UWI St Augustine campus. Second place went to Jeremiah Jacob of Naparima Boys' College for his "Elemental" photo, and third spot to Patricia Joanna Gordon of San Fernando Secondary School for her "Amazing Cliff".
The contest was a huge boost to the students' self-confidence. Sarika's win was announced in front of the whole school at assembly and the A-student had the chance to talk about her photo and why she won. Her delighted geography teacher, LaDonna Marceline Marceline, gave kudos to the Geography Department for reaching out to secondary schools across the country through the photo contest. It gave them the opportunity to discover and explore skills that they may not even have know they had. "I endorse competitions like these which not only tap into students' skills and abilities, but also pulls out their expressions and creativity," remarked the educator.
The photo contest was one of the events organised by the UWI's Geography Department to celebrate its inauguration in August 2012, and to mark Geography Awareness Week in T&T for the first time.
Geography Awareness Week is observed around the world from November 11-17. The photo contest, which was divided into three categories People, Places and Nature was an important element of the Geography Department's initiative "since the visualisation and representation of landscapes and peoples is an essential skill in geography", according to Prof Paul Shaw, head of the department, and its aim was to encourage entrants to share their lived local geographies with a wider community and be recognised for documenting their world. The entrants showed commendable skill in this field, Prof Shaw remarked.
"What drew me to this competition was the photography aspect," explained Sarika. "I think photographs are such an effective tool in catching people's attention and teaching them."
Sarika said she had always enjoyed taking pictures of the environment and people and telling a story through them. "However, after the contest, I really felt the full impact of geography and just how vital it is. After meeting the geography staff at UWI and learning more about the department, it really opened my eyes to the fields of geography and how studying it at tertiary level can propel you into many different careers."
The UWI's Geography unit only became a full department in 2012 and will begin offering a full BSc degree from September this year. The academic staff and students decided to launch the photo contest as part of an international effort to raise awareness of geographical issues at all levels and ages in society.
Second-place winner Jeremiah Jacob says the event gave him the opportunity to share his view of geography. "It made me do some field work, which I thoroughly enjoyed," he said. "Getting out there and doing something is what I'm about, especially when it circulates within a chain reaction to the environment." Even before taking part in the contest he was genuinely interested in geography. Now that he has been recognised for his work, he feels very proud of himself and feels encouraged to keep on striving for success.
The "Naps boy" explained that he has a very artistic side and he intends to create posters, perhaps even a mural, on the environment to remind his classmates of its importance. "To me, speaking to the students and lectures don't seem to do the trick. It's all about being a part of the activity." He explained that "Naps" is very focused on the sciences and this year for their Science Fair, the theme is "Alternative Sources of Energy with a focus on Farming and Famine". "My hope is to construct models based on harnessing energy," Jeremiah explained.
The Sixth Former said he would like to keep in contact with UWI's Geography Department because the outreach project was a wonderful experience for him. Other students were impressed by his photo and proud of the Geography Department at Naparima College. "A couple students even asked me 'When's the next competition?' Everyone at my school was ecstatic about the good news," he added. "Especially my geography teachers!"
For third-placed Patricia Joanna Gordon, Geography Awareness Week helped her to understand that there is more to Caribbean Geography than she had imagined, and it helped her to develop an appreciation for both Physical and Human Geography. "What really excited both me
was the limestone experiment, where you can tell the wetter and drier periods of a country," she says. Taking part in the photo contest has deepened her love of the subject because it made her look at life from a geographical perspective.
Minister in the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, Ramona Ramdial, who is a UWI geography alumna, kicked off Geography Awareness Week events with a television appearance where she shared her experience of Geography at the UWI and spoke about the importance of
geographical insight in her role in the public service. She was accompanied in the interview on Sunrise Television on WINTV by Prof Shaw; his colleague, Dr Priya Kissoon, a lecturer in Human Geography Lecturer in the Geography Department; and Kiron Neale, a UWI graduate (BSc in Environmental and Natural Resource Management and Geography) who won the 2013 Caribbean Rhodes scholarship.
Other events included a visit to the UWI campus by 50 secondary school students who learned about Geography at the tertiary level and the diversity of postgraduate student interests; participated in a map-appreciation lecture and a sample undergraduate lecture in Social Geography. A networking mixer brought together secondary school teachers, UWI academic staff, student ambassadors, and alumni.
Geography at the UWI St Augustine campus has had a brief but dynamic history. The subject was first taught in 2005 (prior to this, students attended the Mona campus in Jamaica), with the inaugural group of 39 students graduating in 2008. At present 10 students are pursuing MPhil and PhD degrees in a range of environmental topics, from the impact of beach changes on Leatherback turtles to the public perception of earthquakes in Tobago, and the historical geography of Arima.
Geography is an attractive major for students. Its theories and methods provide analytical techniques applicable to a broad spectrum of occupations. The skills related to a geography degree include project development, computer modeling, research/analysis, field study, observation of human interactions, ability to communicate across cultures and to understand societies, utilise statistical applications, gather and organise data, read and construct maps, and surveying and sampling.
With a bachelor's degree, geography majors have marketable skills and the broad perspectives on environment and society that enable them to move beyond entry-level positions. For similar reasons, geography provides a sound foundation for students who plan to enter graduate work in a variety of fields. Many people are unaware of the wide range of possible career options available with a geography degree; for example, you could be a geographer; a geological laboratory assistant; a census geographer; a planner for transportation, water resources and communities; a consultant on natural hazards, travel, population studies, site selection and landscapes; an area specialist; or an analyst in urban development, land use feasibility or resources.
Prospective employers include local and central government agencies, such as the Environmental Management Authority and the Ministry of Agriculture; real estate developers; scientific and research groups; waste management companies; chemical companies; firms specialising in forestry, mining, environmental issues, or surveying; and law firms.
In the field of geographic technology, which is used to generate maps, store, analyse and interpret map information, the market for geography majors is rapidly expanding. Prospective employers who require experts in cartography, Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing include government agencies, utility companies (telephone, cable and electricity), construction companies, firms involved in engineering, energy and environmental planning, map publishers, colleges and universities.
The deadline for applications to do the full-time undergraduate degree programme in Geography (and other areas) at the UWI from September 2013 has been extended until February 28.