Local educator making waves in Saipan
Jamaican university professor Dr Grace Turner is making waves at the Northern Marianas College (NMC) in Saipan, a United States territory in the Pacific Ocean.
Dr Turner is now on a nine-month attachment at the NMC having been awarded the prestigious United States (US) Fulbright Scholar in Residence (SIR).
She received the SIR award in August, and became the first female to cop the prize and the first Jamaican in more than 20 years to receive it.
The award was the crowning moment for a woman who has dedicated more than 30 years of her life to working in academia at various levels.
While one would expect jubilation from the winner of this prestigious award, the mother of two is taking it in her stride.
"I am from a family of educators and award winners, and see this award ... as an opportunity to carry on the family tradition and be an ambassador for my country," Dr Turner told The Sunday Gleaner.
Dr Turner left the island in August to take up the award, which will see her remain in the pacific island for nine months.
Now, two months since taking up the award, Dr Turner said settling in Saipan has been smooth.
She told The Sunday Gleaner that the institution had established a committee to plan the activities she would be engaged in keeping with the Fulbright conditions.
In addition, there was a designated liaison officer who was in regular contact with her, and had sent her a schedule of engagements with options from which she could choose.
Dr Turner added that different housing options were lined up for her to visit, and transportation discussed, as there is no public transportation on the island.
The food, she said, is in some respects similar to that found in Jamaica, but she prepares and takes her meals to work, just as she has done while home.
Learning a New Culture
Although Dr Turner pursued doctoral studies in cultural studies and majored in foreign languages in her undergraduate years, she is learning a new culture all over again.
The institution has a diverse population of Asians from neighbouring Palau, Guam, the Philippines, China, Japan as well as the native Chamorro and Carolian peoples, and Dr Turner shares classes with many of them.
"After a month and a half (in Saipan) I learned that 'fagaga' means joking or teasing, as the students said I like to 'fagaga' with them and they find this friendly and helpful to them."
She said, although being away from Jamaica for the past two months, she is far from homesick.
"In a recent Skype conversation with my son and daughter, they told me that when people ask for me, they say I am as busy as ever and look rested and happy and do not appear to be missing home at all.
"When they talk to me they say they could hear a rooster crowing in the background, and said they could understand why I would feel at home with familiar sounds and landscape around."
Already, she has started to give lectures, develop and review courses and contribute to institutional strengthening as the College prepares for an accreditation visit, an area in which she is well versed.
She is also scheduled to make a number of guest presentations to the Chamber of Commerce, civic groups and organisations as well as visit neighbouring islands to share Jamaica's culture.
Dr Turner will also be attending international conferences in fulfilment of the expectations of the college to which she has been assigned.
The Fulbright programme, sponsored by the United States Department of State, helps American colleges such as NMC to host scholars from other countries in order to internationalise those campuses, curriculum, and the wider community.
Dr Turner, who is president of Clavester University College, Ltd., an institution for which courses are being developed, under the guidance of a Board of Management, said she was asked in 2012 to help to identify a candidate for the SIR Award.
She submitted a few names, but they were not selected.
However, on the very last day for candidates to be considered, she received a call asking if she would mind if her name was submitted. Dr Turner said she agreed, and she was chosen.
A farmer of hardwood trees, pineapples, peanuts and pepper for the past 21 years, Dr Turner is also working with women in agriculture in Saipan to be able to take lessons from them back to Jamaica.
As a woman who also sews her clothes, for the most part, she will also be working with a fashion group operating out of the college.
"Who knew that my diverse interests would come into play on an island so many thousands of miles away," said Dr Turner.
In the meantime, president of the NMC, Dr Sharon Hart, said her institution is happy to host Dr Turner.
"We are extremely honoured to have Dr Turner here at NMC to be sharing her extensive knowledge and professional background," said Dr Hart.
"In addition to working directly with our students and administrators, she will also be engaging the community throughout her nine-month stay in Saipan, a task that she has already begun, appearing on television and being invited to and recognised at events.
"The academic and cultural experience, plus the governmental procedures at the local level to which Dr Turner will be exposed are lessons that will no doubt be of tremendous benefit to Jamaica upon her return."
Dr Turner is the former head of distance education at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech). She has also served as associate professor at Northern Caribbean University, and a facilitator at the Jamaica Theological Seminary and HEART Trust/NTA.
The renowned educator has also served as a doctoral supervisor at the International University of the Caribbean and the University of the West Indies as well as coordinator of a master's degree course for over eight years and a consultant to the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication since 2012.