Fulbright scholars strive to leave mark on Guyana’s growing agri, construction sectors

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana

Driven by a shared commitment to leave an indelible mark on the nation’s rapidly expanding economy, Fulbright scholars Keesha St. John and Bayeeshmal Ramsundar are eager to share their newly acquired expertise and insights within their respective sectors – agriculture and construction – both of which are evolving at a remarkable rate.

Guyana’s agriculture sector is witnessing a renewed spark driven by the region’s food security agenda and its goal to reduce food imports by 25 per cent by 2025. With a monumental growth of seven per cent last year, the local agriculture sector is experiencing much dynamism with the expansion of traditional markets and the successful launch of new ones.

Similarly, the local construction sector is undergoing an unprecedented boom in areas of public infrastructure as well as private ventures. The sector recorded 26.8 per cent growth last year, and is projected to expand by another remarkable 23.4 per cent this year.With both sectors projected to continue with impressive performances, Keesha and Bayeeshmaal believe they can positively contribute to their successes.

Keesha St. John’s StorySt. John’s love for agriculture is rooted in her younger years, growing up in the countryside of La Grange on the West Bank of Demerara (WBD). Originally from Albouystown, Georgetown, her educational journey saw her attending the La Grange Primary School and then the St. Joseph High School, where her connection with agriculture science grew.Recognising she possessed a special skill in that area, she decided to become an agriculture science teacher, and pursued that career at the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE).

She chose the path of becoming an educator, “recognising the importance of education in empowering future generations.”

But her passion did not end there, as Keesha went on to the University of Guyana, where she pursued a bachelor’s degree in education – Secondary Agricultural Science, delving deeper into the intricacies of agriculture and its impact on society. Eager to expand her knowledge and contribute meaningfully to the field, the young woman continued her academic journey at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where she obtained a Master’s degree in Agribusiness Economics.

This was made possible through the Fulbright Scholarship programme – one of several United States’ cultural exchange programmes which are offered to Guyanese through the US Embassy in Georgetown.

Keesha St. John

Keesha was awarded the scholarship in 2022 and had to temporarily relocate to the United States to facilitate her studies. Luckily, she got time off from work – as an agriculture science teacher at Queen’s College. The programme ended in May 2024, and she has since returned to Guyana to continue her career as an educator, which began in 2017.

However, her goals have also been greatly expanded, and the 28-year-old believes she can meaningfully contribute to the country’s ambitious agricultural agenda. “I aim to make an impact on agricultural education in Guyana…sharing my knowledge and experiences to inspire and educate the next generation of agricultural professionals,” Keesha confidently expressed.

Additionally, the young woman intends to work with relevant stakeholders to develop policies and programmes that support farmers and agribusinesses, enhancing food security and economic growth.

“I plan to work closely with governmental and non-governmental organisations to design and promote programmes that support the adoption of sustainable farming techniques, improve supply chain efficiencies, and increase market access for agricultural products. By conducting research and disseminating knowledge on best practices, I aim to help farmers optimise their production methods and achieve higher yields, while preserving the environment,” she expressed.

Additionally, she plans to advocate for, and contribute to, the development of educational programmes that equip future agricultural professionals with the skills and knowledge needed to drive innovation and growth in the sector. “Through teaching, mentoring, and community outreach, I aspire to inspire and empower the next generation of agricultural leaders in Guyana,” she expressed. “By combining my academic background, practical experience, and passion for agriculture, I am committed to playing a significant role in advancing Guyana’s food security goals and supporting the ongoing diversification of its agriculture sector.”

In fact, from her recent studies, Keesha recognised that a lot more can be done locally to improve the agricultural sector. Among the strategies that can be implemented, she outlined, is more investment in agriculture research and development.

“Establishing research partnerships between universities, Government agencies, and private sector organisations can lead to the development of crop varieties that are more resilient to climate change and pests,” she outlined, noting too that more investments are needed in improved infrastructure.

Keesha also underscored the need to provide farmers with better access to financial services, and to expand agricultural education and training programmes to farmers. “Extension services and workshops can help disseminate information on new technologies, sustainable practices, and market trends,” she reasoned.

More is needed in the area of policy support, whereby incentives are provided for sustainable practices and there is a framework in place for the protection of farmers’ rights, Keesha further justified.

Also needed is the strengthening of local and international market linkages to help farmers achieve better prices for their produce, she added.

Bayeeshmal Ramsundar’s Story

Ramsundar has similar aspirations for his career as a civil engineer. He told Guyana Times, “It will be a pleasure to work along my fellow Guyanese in the construction industry to fulfill the infrastructure needs for the people.”

He grew up in the village of La Belle Alliance on the Essequibo Coast, Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam), where he attended the CV Nunes Primary School and then the Anna Regina Multilateral Secondary, before going on to pursue his Bachelor of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Guyana (UG), and graduating in 2019 with distinction. In 2022, the young man was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to the New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, where he attained a Master’s of Science in Construction Management.

He and Keesha were the only two Guyanese awardees for that year. Like Keesha, he graduated this year, and has since returned home eager to share his knowledge and expertise in order to improve the local industry.

“The construction industry, unlike other industries, is fragmented, and many times it results in a very combative environment. This situation is not unique to Guyana, but it is one of the main reasons projects are significantly delayed, budgets are blown, and the level of service is not achieved,” he said.

“An area that warrants improvement is fostering a more collaborative atmosphere and better contract management, particularly in private sector–public sector relationships. This approach ensures that Guyanese citizens receive optimal value for their tax dollars,” the 26-year-old noted.

Bayeeshmal Ramsundar

Ramsundar had to leave his job as a civil engineer to facilitate his studies overseas, but he is confident of regaining employment in no time.

“Prior to my Fulbright award, I was a civil engineer and worked for three years on the Sheriff Street–Mandela Road Enhancement Project…The next step is to start working again in the construction industry and gain experience whilst utilising this newly gained knowledge from the USA-based teachings…and at some point, become a project manager to be able to optimise the delivery of construction projects,” he declared.

The Fulbright ExperienceThe Fulbright Foreign Student Program allows Guyanese citizens to complete a master’s or PhD at a higher education institution in the United States. Founded in 1946, the Fulbright Program now operates in 160 countries, and has provided over 400,000 people from all backgrounds and in all fields the opportunity to study, teach, and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to complex global challenges. Both Keesha and Bayeeshmaal had fulfilling experiences during their respective programmes.

“My experiences as a Fulbright exchange student have been incredibly enriching and transformative. The programme provided me with the unique opportunity to immerse myself in a new culture, engage with diverse perspectives, and expand my academic and professional horizons,” St. John expressed.

“My time as a Fulbright exchange student has been a life-changing journey. It has equipped me with new skills, broadened my perspectives, and inspired me to contribute meaningfully to my field and community,” she added.

Ramsundar said, “Leaving my social life behind and starting anew in a vastly different environment posed the biggest challenge. Fortunately, Fulbright provided ample resources to navigate these hurdles.

Additionally, being in cosmopolitan New York City felt like experiencing the entire world in one place, with numerous international student events enriching my experience of this vibrant metropolis.”

Over 120 Guyanese have benefitted from Fulbright scholarships since the early 1960s, and many of them are in the public sector, academia, the arts, business, civil society, media, and education. Applications are now open for the 2025 Fulbright Foreign Student Programme, with August 12 being set as the deadline.

Republished from the Guyana Times