Saved by a scholarship

Curtis Edwards came close to having his dream shattered

Sunday, November 12, 2017

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He was almost an ID number about to be erased from the system.

Now, Curtis Edwards, a second-year student at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech), pursuing a Bachelor of Engineering degree, remembers, with some amount of relief, how he beat an on-the-day deadline to register and pay his auxiliary fees to keep his student status.

Twenty-year-old Edwards spent his earlier days in St Mary. Around age 10, he moved to Kingston to live with his uncle. After sitting the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) at Wolmer's Preparatory, he was placed at Campion College where he spent seven years, which he describes as a rigorous academic journey.

According to Edwards, the school system is set up in such a way that the administration does not expect students to “skylark”. A certain standard of work is expected each academic year.

“They would monitor you. They are also very keen on academic success, and they will always be there to encourage you and ensure that you keep up the standards,” Edwards said.

At the end of his academic tenure at Campion, he amassed eight Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subjects and eight Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination subjects. Despite the pressure of maintaining an average over 80 per cent each academic year, Edwards said the school moulded him into an individual who is determined to strive towards a certain goal and success.

But while aspirations of a bright future are always good, the absence of resources to achieve these goals can lead to those dreams being shattered. That almost happened to young Edwards.

After submitting his application to UTech, the hopeful Edwards said he had no idea what he was going to do once he got accepted because he knew there was no way he could have afforded it.

With an estimated $420,000 per annum for the cost of his programme, he was contemplating taking a gap year or seeking employment, then going to school after he had saved enough money.

He explained that the registration period was almost coming to an end, but he was yet to register. That's when he got a call from Nickees Thomas, scholarship assistant at UTech.

“I was wondering what to do. I got a call from Miss Thomas and I was telling her that I am not sure if I can attend classes because I haven't paid anything and she was saying that I could still attend classes and something will come,” Edwards recalled.

At that point, he said, he was faced with an on-the-spot decision of whether to start school with the hope of securing a scholarship later, or deferring his acceptance. Edwards chose to start school, but the thought that he couldn't pay still weighed heavily on his mind.

“I remember the day of the deadline. I had not registered or paid my auxiliary fees. It was that day and in that spot that I had to make a life decision and just risk everything. I just decided to do that,” Edwards said.

Having managed to pay his first semester fee, days before his modules were about to be cancelled, his next worry was paying for Semester Two.

“God had me in mind,” Edwards said, pointing out that his belief in the Creator was reinforced when he got a call informing him that he had an interview for National Baking Company's Reginald and Irene Hendrickson Memorial Scholarship, for which he had applied in summer 2016. The scholarship is awarded UTech students reading for a degree in engineering who display academic excellence and are in need of financial assistance. It also represents the company's commitment to developing the manufacturing industry in Jamaica.

Edwards recalled being interviewed by director of operations at National Baking Company, Steven Sykes, and in the middle of the interview Edwards made mention of his uncle who drilled in him the fact that his family was poor and the only way through was education. Having aced the interview, he was awarded the scholarship.

Using his grandfather, a retired civil engineer as his inspiration, Edwards said he is determined to realise his dream of becoming a civil engineer. Though his first-year experience was difficult, as he started late and had to play 'catch up', he managed to end the academic year with a 3.50 grade point average (GPA). The scholarship covers all his expenses (tuition and books) for the duration of his four-year degree programme, provided that he is able to maintain a minimum 3.0 grade point average (B Average) and is in good standing with the university.

Literally lost for words when asked about the National Baking Company's contribution to his tertiary education, Edwards said that the feeling is almost indescribable.

“If it weren't for them, who knows where I would be? So my appreciation is almost limitless. It's like I want to say thank you, but I don't know how. How do I thank them for this huge help they have given me?” Edwards asked.

He noted that his sister would say “you have to show them through the work, and by doing that they would know that you are wholeheartedly appreciative”.

Edwards said he hopes to do just that.

The Reginald and Irene Hendrickson Memorial Scholarship was started to commemorate the company's 50th anniversary. To date, 57 UTech students have benefited.


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