Engineers' Angle | The journey from ‘market boy’ to professional engineer
I believe we were not born to simply sit idly and be pitied by anyone, but rather to fulfil a higher calling and live up to our true potential.
As the fourth child of eight siblings on my mother’s side, I was born in the rural community of Hibernia in Manchester at my grandmother’s house. The relationship between my mother and father did not last long after I was born. As a result, my mother took me and my elder sister to live with my father’s mother in Robin’s Hall for a while because she could not afford to care for us all by herself. After a few years, my mother returned for us both to live with her in St James, but my grandmother insisted that I would have to stay with her.
In hindsight, I believe it was a blessing in disguise because the person I am today is a direct result of the challenges and hardships I had faced and the discipline that was inculcated in me primarily by my grandmother. I have learnt that faith, persistence, endurance, and discipline are requirements for success.
IMPORTANCE OF CARING FOR MY SHOES
I recollect missing school on several Fridays because I had to go to the market while my friends were playing and having fun at school. I can also remember feeling embarrassed to attend school on a Monday morning without a pair of shoes on my feet but neatly attired because I had destroyed my shoes kicking stones the week before. I learnt the ‘hard lesson’ of the importance of caring for my shoes because they would not be replaced quickly.
I can vividly remember having to wake up very early in the mornings to complete my chores before the privilege of breakfast. My chores included making up the bed, sweeping the yard, making wood-fire for cooking, taking the goats out, feeding the pigs, and sometimes, assisting with the milking of the cow.
LEARNING BY SELLING IN THE MARKET
Education was a priority for my grandmother. Going to school and reaching on time was a given, except when assigned other responsibilities by her. My grandmother was also integrally involved in the teaching and learning process. she would periodically check and help with my homework, and no excuse was accepted for not completing classwork.
I had to attend school, except when going to the market with my grandmother to sell ground provisions, plastic bags, or assist with determining the weight of goods.
At the market, I had the awesome responsibility of calculating the total cost of items accurately (without the use of a calculator) and collecting payments. I learnt and developed mastery of consumer arithmetic, physics principles, and entrepreneurial skills as a youngster at the market. I was taught the importance of work and the value of money.
My grandmother became very ill, and she was no longer able to care for me. She was eventually taken to live with one of her daughters and I was sent to live with my father for a while in St Ann. then I left to live in St Catherine and then Manchester with my aunts. By this time, I was out of school.
I contacted my mother, and she wanted me to live with her in St James, but I refused. She insisted that I must get back into school. After more than eight months out of school and having to repeat two grades, I was back in school.
CONQUERING OPPORTUNITIES WITH A SECOND CHANCE
Recognising that I had been given a second chance to attend high school, I took hold of the opportunity, worked diligently and consistently maintained the highest average and collected several awards and recognition, including head boy and student of the year from Holmwood Technical High School.
I went on to the University of Technology (UTech), where I was the recipient of the Jamaica Technical High School Scholarship, which I maintained for the duration of my studies. Following UTech, I worked for a short time then obtained a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in manufacturing engineering systems at the Western Illinois University (WIU) in the United States and was the first Jamaican male to enter that programme.
Upon graduation, I was recognised as the most outstanding engineering graduate student. In 2017, I became the first Jamaican to be a Certified Manufacturing Engineer (CMfgE) with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) in the US. Since graduation, I have returned to serve my country amid the many job opportunities that were offered to me overseas.
I believe that people do have the power to change their circumstances regardless of their socio-economic background, challenges, and difficulties, but they must be hungry for success.
It was stated in 2009 that Vision 2030 Jamaica is the strategic road map by which our country will progress to become developed over the next 21 years. I encourage all young people to strive for excellence and, use their talents, skills, and influence in a productive and positive way to help this plan become a reality.
- Junior A Bennett, P.E, CMfgE, CMfgT, is a lecturer in industrial engineering at the University of Technology, Jamaica. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org