COMING from a struggling family in the rural community of Belfield, St Mary, 23-year-old Karen Baker had no idea her faith and determination would lead her to earn a full scholarship in her third year of university, so she could complete her Doctor of Pharmacy degree.
The degree, a five-year programme at The University of the West Indies (UWI), was more than challenging to complete without the added pressure of sourcing the $1.5-million [US$10,000] tuition yearly.
“When I was about to start I was very terrified as to where I would get all of this money from,” Baker began. “One of the questions they asked me when I was conducting the interview was, 'will you be able to pay?' but I said yes in faith, I believe this is where God wanted me to be,” she said.
Baker told Career & Education that she was able to complete her first year because her parents were able acquire funds for the tuition and she participated in the Jamaica Values and Attitude Programme for tertiary students, which required her to do 2,000 hours of voluntary service and at the end of academic year, 30 per cent of her tuition was paid.
But she said in her second year, “My grandma died, my mother lost her job and my dad is currently 76 and he does construction work, so you know how it goes with age [and] how it affects the body, and he was unable to work as much as he used to.”
Resorting to applying to the Students' Loan Bureau for assistance with her tuition, Baker said, “I still wasn't pleased with that because they lent me a million dollars and that's still a lot, it's five years for my programme and when I thought about how much money I'd have to pay back in the end, it was really terrifying.”
Feeling desperation creeping in, Baker said she started applying to a number of different scholarships and she even wrote to the governor general's office for assistance. According to Baker, Governor General Sir Patrick Allen was so moved by her letter and circumstances that he appointed someone to assist her in seeking sponsors.
The issue was that nobody was willing to give the full amount of money. She (the person Allen assigned to assist Baker) was saying it doesn't make sense if she accepts payment from one individual because if I get, for example, $300,000, where am I going to come up with the rest? It was a big challenge,” Baker explained.
“I'm a Seventh-day Adventist and I normally attend Andrews [Memorial] on Saturdays. One day I was leaving church and I think it was the Holy Spirit that told me to ask Mr [Alfred] Thomas (president of Pioneer Manufacturing Distribution Company) if he knew about any scholarships. He told me he would make an attempt to assist me, but he is a very busy man so I really didn't hear back from him for some time,” she said, adding that she eventually received a call from Thomas weeks before she started her third year at UWI, saying along with the company executives, he decided to give her a full scholarship.
“I didn't even know who he was or that he would have been in a position that would be able to offer me assistance at that point in time. I just thought that maybe he knew of something I could apply for,” Baker stated.
“Mr Thomas, he wasn't only interested in seeing to it that the tuition was paid, he also became very influential in my life in regards to mentorship. He would give me advice, at times they would assist with groceries and it's more than I could've imagined. When I thought it was only for the year, he committed to ensuring that I finished university,” she continued, expressing her gratitude at having Pioneer Manufacturing Distribution Company paying her tuition for the remainder of her time at UWI.
Having completed her degree, Baker declared, “I am now finished and I am grateful to have passed that milestone. But I see myself going much further than this and at this point I'm currently doing my internship so I can become registered as a licensed pharmacist in Jamaica. Internship will bring me to different locations, but I am currently at Bustamante Hospital for Children.”
“I'm glad that at that point when I didn't get the prior scholarship, I didn't stop there. I continued trying and I guess the experience helped to build my determination and my resilience and I think that is a very good characteristic for people to have when they're pursuing anything in life,” she continued.
Adding that throughout her university journey she often became discouraged after applying for a number of scholarships and not getting a response, Baker noted that, “having faith kind of gives me that reassurance that maybe if I didn't get a particular thing, a closed door doesn't always mean it's a no. Sometimes you just have to keep pushing and keep knocking and the right door will eventually open.”
Saying that she intends to further her education overseas, Baker stated that she is hoping that interested persons will assist her with her future tuition.
“I want to delve into the different areas of pharmacy, so my dream actually is after I finish my internship, to do some research, like a master's programme. I don't know how it will work out, but I have faith,” she said.