It’s a common childhood dream to want to be an astronaut or a scientist after parents have explained Neil Armstrong’s historic moonwalk. What is not a cliché is Saint Lucians applying to university nearly twenty years later but still focused on pursuing careers in space or science and technology. Cheyenne Polius and Dajr Alfred plan to defy the odds and encourage other young Saint Lucians to come along with them.
Cheyenne is a 22-year-old pursuing her Integrated Masters in Physics and Astrophysics at the University of Sheffield, England and Dajr, 23, is a double major student about to complete his BSc in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering at Kun Shan University in Taiwan. Cheyenne said she always believed she could be anything she wanted. “Space always excited me and physics quickly became my favourite science at secondary school. So, I just let that passion guide me to continuing with maths and physics at A-Level and then on to doing an astrophysics degree.” But the two did not have outrageous dreams without some locally tailored discouragement.
Said Dajr: “I came to realize how technologically starved the Caribbean region truly is. The education system somewhat prepares us for careers in STEM fields while the work available to us after graduation greatly contrasted this, and remains staunchly rooted in agriculture and hospitalities.” He added: “The budding scientists in our region have no choice but to find careers overseas and, in fact, the brain drain is hastily encouraged. If I had a dollar for every time I was told Saint Lucia held nothing for me, I would by now be a billionaire.”
Now, the two are Saint Lucia’s National Points of Contact at the Space Generation Advisory Council, an international organisation linked closely with the United Nations and geared towards providing a network for young and future space professionals around the world. SGAC represents young people between the ages of 18 and 35 at the United Nations, space agencies, industry and academia. The story of how Cheyenne Polius and Dajr Alfred became NPoCs is filled with passion, drive and a thirst for knowledge and opportunity.
“In order to give back and to create opportunities that I can only wish I had,” said Dajr, “I have facilitated a STEM-based workshop every university-summer break. Last year, it was held at the Vieux Fort Comprehensive Secondary School in partnership with the school’s science department. Cheyenne Polius, who at the time was the sole NPoC in Saint Lucia, was a guest speaker. Towards the end of her space-based presentation, she urged eligible individuals present to apply for the second position. I was successful in filling the vacancy.”
The two NPoCs of each country are meant to coordinate SGAC activities in their homeland. Taking up the mantle, Cheyenne spearheaded a group of other young space enthusiasts, including Dajr, to launch LUNAA, the St. Lucia National Astronomy Association. “The LUNAA team is so passionate and driven,” said Cheyenne, currently the association’s president, with Dajr as vice. “They make anything seem possible. Launching the association is only the first step in the big goals we have.”
Said Dajr: “There are many university graduates and scholars in the association and it truly astounds me how many brilliant astronomical minds call our small island home. We were able to photograph the moon during the most recent lunar eclipse and also held a star-gazing event at VFCSS using a high-powered telescope provided by Dr. Archer, one of our members.”
Hosting events such as stargazing, full-moon parties and workshops to build telescopes, or assisting students with applications to universities and scholarships, fall under LUNAA’s three main objectives: to raise awareness of the benefits of space exploration to Saint Lucia and the rest of the Caribbean region; to be an avenue for astronomy enthusiasts to explore their passion to enjoy astronomy as a hobby or turn it into a career if they wish; and to build a nationwide appreciation for space and open citizens’ minds to the multiple opportunities available in the space sector and other Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.
Cheyenne and Dajr anticipate big plans for LUNAA, especially because of their affiliation with the Space Generation Advisory Council which provides a massive networking platform and possible job and travel opportunities. Asked about their hopes for their fellow Saint Lucians in the field of science, Cheyenne said: “Open mindedness. People love to think that because we’re a small developing island we just have to settle for what we have. But I believe we could achieve so much more if more of us were open to the possibilities.”
As for Dajr: “New entrepreneurs, such as Mr. Dujon of Algas Organics, who will create opportunities for future generations where there were none. People with the knowledge and know-how to guide the young with similar dreams and aspirations into the STEM fields and great thinkers to create new linkages which could allow our economy to thrive.”–