Beetham engineer Ajamu Crosby hopes to break stereotypes

Ajamu Crosby, at his Beetham Gardens home, wants people to see the worth of Beetham residents. - PHOTO BY SUREASH CHOLAI
Ajamu Crosby, at his Beetham Gardens home, wants people to see the worth of Beetham residents. - PHOTO BY SUREASH CHOLAI

Ajamu Crosby has made a habit out of solving problems.

Whether in the classroom or out, the 23-year-old university graduate and Beetham resident believes that hard work and the right attitude are the solutions to any difficulty and is determined to help others realise their potential.

Crosby made headlines in 2017 when he won an additional scholarship in the natural science category after earning top marks in the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE).

Speaking with Sunday Newsday at his 17th D Street, Beetham Gardens, home on Tuesday, Crosby, spoke about his journey through secondary school, the importance of good role-models and his hope for his community.

Engineer Ajamu Crosby credits the support of his mother Juliana Crosby for his success. Photo courtesy Ajamu Crosby

Crosby graduated from The University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, last year with an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering.

While he admits there are few scholarship winners from Beetham Gardens, he isn’t a stereotype and hoped the national community could one day see Beetham residents as a community like any other.

In the gallery of his family’s home the importance of education is noticeable with a bookshelf stacked with textbooks – past exam papers occupying half the space – and a white board on the wall.

Crosby attended primary and secondary school in Tunapuna at the request of his mother who wanted him to be close to where she worked at the time.

After scoring high marks in CSEC, he went on to attend Hillview College for CAPE, where he was exposed to different cultures and experiences.

“There was a lot of competition because the students were brilliant so that was one of the reasons why I went to Hillview for form six.

“What was interesting attending Hillview was the cultural differences. Being introduced to a lot of the Hindu and Muslim religious customs from the other students, I felt I got a more diverse sense of TT’s cultural diaspora.”

While, he said, the new environment was refreshing, this would be the first time Crosby saw the perceptions of others towards Beetham residents noting that he sometimes felt excluded by other students.

In this August 29 photo, three out of stacks of the Powergen plant a visible from Wrightson Road, Port of Spain. All of the stacks have since been removed. Beetham engineer Ajamu Crosby did a study on the plant for his mechanical engineering degree at The UWI. Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

While he was not deterred by this, it was something he thought about.

“There were situations where I felt a little unwelcome, just some students saying certain things. I don’t want to throw dirt on anyone but it had instances where I didn’t feel welcome but the teachers were very welcoming.

“When I attended Tunapuna Secondary before Hillview I didn’t really say where I lived because let’s be honest there is a stigma in the community, I didn’t want to just be known as ‘the guy from the Beetham’, but when I found success it made it more amazing that I came from an area like this and still achieved success in academics, because being from the Beetham Gardens it’s kind of rare.”

Despite this, Crosby said he was strengthened by his mother, Juliana, who encouraged him to continue working hard towards his dreams.

Both mother and son supported each other as while Crosby studied for CAPE, his mother studied for her degree in psychology at the University of the Southern Caribbean.

Crosby’s mother said she always did her best to encourage her son to appreciate the value of education while working through difficult times.

“He was quite supportive of me because when I went into my first semester of the programme, oh my God, I threw my hands up in the air and he was there.

“He said, ‘Mummy don’t worry we will study together,’ and he helped me too because mathematics was a subject I am really weak in and he’s a mathematician.

“I got through, I passed the mathematics class. We fed off of each others strength. One of the things I always told him growing up is to reach one, you have to teach one.”

Eventually Crosby earned high enough grades to be awarded an additional scholarship. This allowed him to study anywhere in the Caribbean.

Crosby said while he originally wanted to be an astronomer, he developed an interest for physics and the application of mathematics in the real world while studying for CAPE and chose to remain in Trinidad, enrolling in UWI’s mechanical engineering programme.

Being the first of his siblings to attend university was a major achievement, but that meant Crosby had to adjust to the pace of work and general university life with little guidance on what was expected of him.

“The university experience was different from secondary school because it’s such a big campus you can get lost in it, so it wasn’t as focused.

“The most difficult parts in UWI was always finding that drive and being consistent in your effort because there were parts where you would fall off with the work and getting tired of it, and it’s just so much to be doing all the time and coming from CAPE where I put out 100 per cent to try and win a scholarship and then heading straight into a three-year programme which is even more work. That was the toughest part.”

Scholarship winner Ajamu Crosby graduated with an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from UWI last year. Photo courtesy Ajamu Crosby

Despite the challenges of the coursework, Crosby’s interest in engineering grew, leading him into the field of renewable energy, even focusing his final year project on the energy analysis of a steam power plant, using the now decommissioned Powergen power plant in Port of Spain as a reference.

He took this passion with him to the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries department of renewable energy where he worked as an intern last year before graduating.

Crosby said while passion and interest were important in the fields of applied science, just as important were issues of funding.

Citing the allocation of $6.9 billion to education and training for the 2022 budget, Crosby said he hoped some of these resources could be directed to funding more innovative, cutting edge ideas to push the field forward.

“In engineering we really don’t have a lot of research. We don’t really promote developing new ideas or concepts among our graduates, it’s all about going and doing things like maintenance and upkeep and falling in line with the process.

“There isn’t really any innovation. I want to see funding in innovation, if a student has an idea let’s give him a scholarship or a grant to fund that idea to see how far it can go.

“Things like renewable energy. I’ve seen some final year projects in UWI that blew my mind, I’ve seen solar-powered fridges, solar-powered go-carts, that money should go into those ideas.”

Crosby now works at the Ministry of Works and Transport in the mechanical services division and is also working on a book detailing his journey from Beetham through UWI and hopes it would be the first step towards changing the perception of his community, as he feels Beetham’s residents are merely glanced at but not seen by the national community.

He says part of the difficulties in getting young people in his community motivated to do their best has to do with the lack of positive role-models, something he wants to be.

“You don’t typically look around here and say, ‘Hey my neighbour is a doctor or my other neighbour is an engineer,’ it’s hard for children in the community to see that. That’s why I like to accomplish things like that so someone from the Beetham can look at me and realise that it’s very possible.

“The intention of the book is to open the eyes of children from Tunapuna, Westmoorings, San Fernando.

“When you hear the name Beetham don’t think of that person as a bad person. I want to relay to these people what it’s like without reinforcing some stereotype and bridge a gap between different communities.

“I want to really integrate the community into the rest of society and not just be this thing we stare at and are scared of. I know there are bad elements but there are also good elements and they deserve the attention too.”

Even with good examples available, the difficulties of trying to maintain good grades in less-than-ideal conditions have not been lost on him.

Recalling having to study while using bits of tissue as earplugs to drown out loud music from a nearby house, Crosby says discipline and hard work were sometimes the only solutions to problems.

Ajamu Crosby's mother Juliana says her son has been supportive of her furthering her education, even assisting her with mathematics courses.
Photo courtesy Ajamu Crosby

“Life isn’t perfect. Sometimes there will be people with more resources than you but that shouldn’t deter you from doing your best.

“If you work hard enough, long enough you will get there.”

Crosby says he understands that while all students may not have the same interests as him, he believed they all had the capacity to achieve their goals and more, once they were prepared to work hard and stay focused.

Facing hard work head on and not giving up the fight has been a part of Crosby’s life, reflected even in his name Ajamu – Yoruba in origin – which means, “Boy who fights for what he wants.”


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