By Lisa Davis-Burnett

St. Maarten has a new friend it seems, I know I have. Her name is Georgia Huggins. She’s a geologist. Through the sponsorship of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) this highly trained Earth Scientist came to give a talk to the students of University of St. Martin (USM) last week. Her topic was careers in Geosciences, something she knows about very well, having worked as a geologist for British Petroleum (BP) in Trinidad and Tobago for more than 14 years. Thanks to her visit, the Science-, Maths-, and Engineering-leaning students of USM have now been exposed to new possible career paths open to them.

Regular readers of WEEKender will perhaps recall my attendance at the Caribbean Geological Conference in Port of Spain, Trinidad, back in May 2015, where I was impressed by the number of young Caribbean women entering the fields of Geology and Geophysics. Contacts made during attendance at that conference led to this visiting lecturer event at USM.

Georgia Huggins arrived on the island on a sunny day, and commented that she had left Trinidad with hazy skies. “Sahara dust,” she said. It was her first time to St. Maarten, so I obliged her with a quick tour of Simpson Bay’s strip and the southern coastline, and soon she was nicely set up in a room by the beach at Divi Little Bay Hotel. The next day she would be presenting her talk with the USM students, so I left her to prepare and organize herself – as well as to enjoy the amenities of the resort. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow at 11:00am” I said, and off I went.

THE NEXT DAY I was pulling up to the turn off for the Divi at 10:55am, and saw a lady walking on the sidewalk that leads into Philipsburg. “Is that her?” I asked myself, “No, it can’t be.” Arriving at her room, I knocked, but no answer. Checking around gave me no guidance. “Maybe that was her,” I thought. Oh well, leaving notes for her to call me, I went back to work.” Later I got the call, and yes, she indeed had walked into town, bought some souvenirs and walked back. What’s a little miscommunication between friends? Next stop, USM. I was to pick her up and deliver her to the campus at 3:30pm.

At USM we found our way to Room 208, stopping first to meet University President Dr. Francio Guadeloupe and Academic Dean Geneve Phillips, as well as Head of Education Patricia Arrindell and Head of Finances Robert Judd. The students arrived and the talk began. Some students were interested to learn more about geology, having taken USM’s Intro to Geology course in a previous semester. Others were hopeful to pursue careers on oil rigs or other related jobs. “It’s so hard to make good contacts with these industries,” remarked one student, “this is one of the best things I have seen in a long while.”

MS. HUGGINS encouraged the students in their interests and posed a scenario during which they were tasked with gathering data and finding oil deposits in a new discovery field in the land of “Somewhereia.” The students had to make decisions about where to drill and where to run lines for seismic surveys. At the end of the talk, she suggested that USM students interested in exploring these kinds of careers could link up with the AAPG student group in Trinidad for workshops, field trips and career advice. A similar group exists in Jamaica.

Xavier Moonan, coordinator for AAPG, organized this visit for Huggins and shared this statement: “AAPG's primary goal is to advance the knowledge of geosciences. With guidance from Victor Vega (President, AAPG Latin America and Caribbean Region) we are striving to reach out to all geosciences-related institutions throughout the region to partner with them to inspire the next generation geoscientists. A couple years ago the ‘Caribbean’ was not included in the name for the region. This was unanimously changed, as AAPG recognized the large body of geoscientists that occurs throughout the Caribbean and with such a wide range of careers. In fact, due to activity levels now in the Caribbean, it is even joked that the region should have been renamed the Caribbean and Latin America Region. 

“OVER THE past year Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) rose from an area of very little AAPG activity to one of the most active AAPG Chapters in the world. T&T is home to an AAPG Student Chapter (based at University of the West Indies, St. Augustine) and a Young Professionals Chapter (which comprises recent graduates and junior geoscientists). Together these chapters coordinate at least two activities per month, including field trips, technical talks, well-site visits and hikes. 

“A rather cheap and simple way that T&T Chapters can reach out to USM is through the use of social media. The T&T Chapters are on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For every event that is held, they post highlights or even go ‘live.’ With some simple coordination we should be able to hold a talk in Trinidad and have it live on Facebook for USM geology students to view. We try to go live in the field as well, but it’s a little challenging due to poor network coverage in some places we tend to venture.”

THAT NIGHT over seafood pasta at Chesterfield’s, Georgia shared how British Petroleum had sponsored her to earn her Master’s Degree in Geology at University of Texas in Austin. “I got a full scholarship from BPTT, because they needed a sedimentologist within the company. I was asked by the Senior Geologist if I was interested and I was told to apply to UT Austin. When I was accepted, I received a stipend from the company, which would cover housing, tuition and meals and if I was careful, I could save some money for things like going out to eat at a restaurant on my birthday. I had to be careful with costs, because I was told they WOULD NOT give me more money if I ran out. My grades were also monitored and if I had done badly, I’m sure that my funding would’ve been cut off.”

The following day I dropped Georgia off in Grand Case to try her hand at creating her own perfume at Tijon Perfumery. This was something unique, she said, and she was excited to experiment with all the scents and extracts available in their lab. I took advantage of the drive to show her more of the island and drove her home in the afternoon via a different route, so she had seen much of the island by that time.

HER LAST DAY on the island was devoted to investigating the geology of St. Maarten. We studied rock formations in Point Blanche, Sucker Garden, Oyster Pond, Cripple Gate, Colombier and the top of the hill at Link Two. We also made a quick stop at ACE Home Center in Cole Bay to buy some sheets for her sister, “They have to be at least 500-thread count,” and then stopped for lunch at Top Carrot, which she said reminded her of the places she used to go in Austin.

At last we headed to the airport so she could catch her flight back to Trinidad. “Have you enjoyed your trip?” I asked. “Oh, yes, very much!” This whirlwind visit was a wonderful experience for all involved and the potential for long term collaboration for our university students is a brass ring that I hope we can hold on to.

For more information visit www.thegstt.com or the Facebook page of AAPG Student Chapter (UWI)

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