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Merline Elizabeth Bardowell: Scientific Innovator
published: Monday | January 15, 2007

Nashauna Drummond, Staff Reporter

Merline Bardowell loves her job. - Norman Grindley/Deputy Chief Photographer

Do you know how many bytes make a megabyte and, what exactly is a motherboard anyway? Let's face it, not many of us are interested in technology. After all, it does not seem to be the most exciting topic in the world. For Merline Elizabeth Bardowell however, science is fun.

Since 2002, she has held the position of Executive Director at the National Commission on Science and Technology Secretariat (NCST), dedicating 28 years to the dissemination of scientific and technological information in Jamaica. In her current role, she is responsible for coordinating, monitoring, evaluating and integrating science and technology for national, social and economic development.

With her desire to make a difference in people's lives, the NCST allows her to do just that. The organisation's mission is to improve the quality of life of Jamaicans through the application of science and technology for social and economic development.


However, this was never part of her plan.

Growing up in the hills of northern Clarendon, Bardowell wanted to be a teacher. She spent her evenings teaching tin cans and bottles what she had learnt that day. This earned her the nickname 'teacher' but she never made it to the classroom. After sitting O'Levels at Excelsior High School, her father died and she abandoned her education for work. She resumed her education at the College of Arts, Science and Technology (now University of Technology UTech), doing her advanced level studies in Zoology and Botany.


In high school she had been exposed to the sciences based on her streaming and did them because, "Everyone was saying how hard the sciences were and I just wanted to do them. I was going to prove I could do it. I had no career in mind."

Her career choice was spurred during her tenure at the Jamaica Library Service. Her interest in science and technology was integral to the selection of science books. That was where her passion for providing information (scientific) flourished. After that things fell in place for Bardowell.

Following completion of a bachelor's degree at the University of the West Indies (UWI), she went on to a post-graduate degree in information studies. She then completed a masters in information resources management at Syracuse University in New York, before completing her executive masters in business administration with emphasis on technology management at the UWI.


Left: Merline Bardowell was the first female to receive the National Award for Science and Technology. Here she receives her award from Governer-General Professor Kenneth Hall (left). Looking on is aide-de-camp, Captain Sammuel Ellis.   Right: She speaks of her mother who passed away late last year.

Merline Bardowell loves her job. Once you get her talking about science her passion is unmistakable, "I love my work."

In 2006, she became the first female to receive the national award for science and technology. Of this recognition she is extremely pleased, "It really feels good and I'm looking forward to other women receiving this award."

Bardowell loves everything about her job. The interaction between the scientific community, the challenge to make sure limited resources are maximised, influencing scientifically related legislation and policies, and her favourite, working with the youth.

While working at the Scientific Research Council, she pioneered the extension services in support of non-formal science and technology education in high schools. There are currently approximately 196 science and technology societies in these schools and 105 at the primary level.

Surprised at how little Jamaicans understood and appreciated science, she pioneered and implemented the celebration of the first ever Science and Technology Month in Jamaica in 1996. "If something can be done I think it should be done."

Bardowell believes that it is through science and technology that the country can achieve economic wealth. "I wanted to apply science and technology to the country's economic development, I think I've laid the ground work."

Family Life

Left: Merline Bardowell and her husband Keith.  Right: Merline (right) enjoys the company of family members, husband Keith and daughter Monica. - photos by Norman Grindley/Deputy Chief Photographer

Bardowell was born into a large family at a time when Jamaica was a more peaceful, loving country. "There was so much love (in my family). I never saw my parents quarrel, and the older children took care of the younger ones." She reminisces on the days when children were raised by the community, "I would like to see Jamaica get back to those days."

As such, Bardowell's marriage to Keith Bardowell is, "such a happy marriage." She met him at a birthday party where he danced with her all night and they have been together for 22 years. "He's very supportive, we have so many things in common and spend a lot of time roaming the countryside," she beamed. Bardowell raised two children, her biological daughter Monica Smith, aged 30 and grand nephew Calister Parara, 24.

Of course, when she's not up to her elbows in scientific exploits, she's kept equally busy with numerous other obligations. Her spirituality is very important to her and off the job she's occupied with assisting her church, Stella Maris. Added to that, her time is demanded by the Rotary club or UNESCO national committee and as president of the Commonwealth Association of Science and Technology and Mathematics Educator.

Free time is divided among other interests. These include: gardening, watching cricket (even when West Indies is losing) and reading. You may also catch her dancing up a storm to the tunes of Engelbert Humperdink.

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