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An excellent youth - Parris Lyew-Ayee now in charge of UWI Department of Geography and Geology, despite young age

Published:Monday | December 10, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee - Contributed Photo

Sacha Walters-Gregory, Staff Reporter

Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee is now the head of the Deparment of Geography and Geology at the University of the West Indies' Faculty of Science and Technology.

"It's a very weird appointment, being 32," said Lyew-Ayee, commenting on how young he is. Such an academic position is usually reserved for someone with years of experience. A karst geomorphologist and known for his work as director of the Mona GeoInformatics Institute, where he has developed Geographic Information Systems, Lyew-Ayee is no stranger to achieving in his youth.

In 2004, he completed a four- or five-year PhD programme from Oxford University in two and a half years. But this appointment leaves him in an unusual, and you may even call it an uncomfortable, position.

The position sees him heading the department under which he read for his bachelor of science degree in earth sciences in 2001. However, it doesn't stop there. He is also his mother's boss.

"She's been part of the department longer than she has been my mother," he said of his mother, Ann Lyew-Ayee, who is the department's academic coordinator.

"She doesn't want me there," he said, quickly adding, "and don't get me wrong. It's just that I have so much to do," referring to the act of juggling two full-time jobs which have him reeling with duties - a pressure his mother does not like to see her son endure.

Excellent team member

"Any mother would not want that for her son," he said. Professionally, he thinks she is excellent as a team member. She determines whether students are qualified to enter their programmes, a knowledge set Lyew-Ayee knows nothing about.

"She makes the department look better than it really is, with or without me. She makes my job easier," he said.

However, that's not the only unusual work relationship he encounters.

"The awkward part is really being the boss of my former lecturers," he said, admitting there is some amount of walking on eggshells involved. "It can't be pleasant for them. It isn't for me." He cannot bring himself to refer to any of them by their first names, out of respect. But, eggshells aside, the recent Gleaner and Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica's 50UnderFifty awardee says he is up to the task of creating a new paradigm for the department and executing the vision of the department to further extend the diverse graduand pool, to become influential leaders in society.

Lyew-Ayee wants to help matriculate students who do not just know how to pass exams but see the applicability of their degrees to a cross-section of fields.

"People should be snapping them up. We can't have graduates sitting on their couches a year after graduating." He wants to eradicate the question, 'What do you do with that?', in reference to degrees in their fields.

"I haven't heard that question, as people have certainly seen that I have done something with it," he said.

Not stopping there, at his other full-time job, constant research and development is being conducted to constantly upgrade and diversify their products, which include crime mapping and fleet management.

While the jobs keep him busy, he is up for the challenge and encourages the media to keep him on his toes by following up with him to make sure he is making a difference, not just achieving degrees at a young age.