ISTEAH professor completes first year as UNESCO Chair in Haiti
“It was not easy over the past year because we had to set things up,” said Smith, who is the first person to occupy the UNESCO Chair position in Haiti. “We are working hard so that we can achieve the planned objectives.”
Smith is a chemistry professor with a specialisation in environmental chemistry at the Institut des sciences, des technologies et des études avancées d’Haïti (ISTEAH), which was supported by IDRC.
“There are multiple challenges in Haiti,” said Smith. “First of all, the security conditions limit the number of activities that can be undertaken in person. The conditions are not conducive for the mobility of researchers in Haiti.”
Despite the challenges, among the key achievements as Chair over the past year, Smith cites the organization of monthly conferences of students from partner schools, covering science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), gender equity and career guidance. In collaboration with ISTEAH, the Chair also organized the third national science Olympiads with baccalauréat students. In addition, a brochure is being prepared with profiles of five Haitian women scientists who can serve as role models for young girls.
The need to strengthen the presence of women in sciences in the country is urgent, Smith stressed.
Speaking at UNESCO's virtual launch of the Chair in June 2021, ISTEAH’s president, Order of Canada recipient Samuel Pierre, told attendees that Smith was chosen in part because of the obstacles she has had to overcome. “Despite falling ill in 2016, she did not want to give up, she wanted to support her [PhD) thesis at all costs. She continued to work despite enormous difficulties related to her illness and the demotivating words of those around her," said Pierre. "You can get anything you want if you have self-confidence and determination and if you agree to make the necessary sacrifices,” he added.
In the coming period, among other activities, the Chair plans on organizing regional seminars and international conferences in Haiti focusing on the role of women in STEM. She also plans on supporting the participation of Haitian women scientists in international conferences abroad with a view to presenting research findings.
“Such exposure will aim to show the dynamism of research in Haiti, by women,” Smith said.
The UNESCO Chairs Programme involves more than 850 institutions in 117 countries. It promotes international inter-university cooperation and networking to enhance institutional capacities through knowledge sharing and collaborative work.
ISTEAH was established in 2013 to serve as an academic institution of excellence dedicated primarily to the training of high-calibre scientists and innovators across Haiti, at the post-doctoral, doctoral (PhD), and master’s levels.
Find out more about ISTEAH’s story here.