Some places in the world tend to be hotspots for certain types of talent. Silicon valley gives the world lots of innovative startups. Kenya is known for its marathon runners. And while Trinidad & Tobago is already famous for its musicians and beauty pageant champions, it doesn’t always receive the attention it deserves as the birthplace for some of the top global leaders in the fields or business, technology and even government outside of Trinidad & Tobago.
Here are but a few examples of Trinidadians who are making, or have already made a mark on the business, scientific, medical, and educational domains at a global level.
- Michael Fisher – Physicist, Chemist, Mathematician, Professor
- Camille Wardrop Alleyne – Space Scientist, NASA Aerospace Engineer
- Professor Anil Kokaram – Google Engineer, Entrepreneur, Engineering Professor
- Wayne A. I. Fredrick MD, MBA, FACS – President of Howard University (US)
- Maxine Williams – Facebook’s Global Director of Diversity
- Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson – Father of the International Criminal Court
- Roger Ramsammy – President of Miami Dade College, West Campus (US)
- Arnold Rampersad – Literary Critic, Biographer, MacArthur Genius
84 year old Dr. Michael Fisher is one example. A renowned scientist and mathematician, born in Fyzabad, Trinidad in 1931, Fisher earned his PhD in physics from King’s College London in 1957. He later became a professor of physics, chemistry and mathematics at Cornell University, and then chaired the chemistry department from 1975 until 1978. Fisher has been recognized for his contributions to phase transition theory and statistical physics.
Aerospace Engineer Camille Wardrop Alleyne (pictured above) is part of the United States’ National Aeronautics & Space Administration’s (NASA) senior management team as the Assistant Program Scientist for the International Space Station. She works out of Houston, Texas as the liaison between the International Space Station program and the US Congress, the public, and outside academic and research communities. In addition to this, Alleyne works to promote STEM education to students, especially girls.
Professor Anil Kokaram was born in Sangre Grande, Trinidad, into a family of educators, so it was no surprise that he eventually earned a doctorate at Cambridge University in England. He earned his PhD by conducting research into signal processing algorithms that could be applied to cinematic technology. Eventually, Dr. Kokaram worked with colleagues to develop revolutionary technology used in restoring old movies, or damaged film. Later, Dr. Kokaram developed techniques for motion estimation necessary when producing complex, special-effects laden big budget studio motion pictures. The technology developed along with colleagues Simon Robinson, Ben Kent, and Dr. Bill Collis earned a scientific and engineering Academy Award for this technology, used in movies such as Spiderman, Lord Of The Rings, and X-Men.
Dr. Kokaram founded cinematic software firm Green Parrot Pictures, which was sold to Google in 2011. He now works in the transcoding group for YouTube and YouTube parent company Google where he works on creating new video processing algorithms, while still teaching students as a Professor at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Dr. Kokaram has published over 100 papers on his areas of expertise and also concurrently serves as the associate editor of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers) Transactions on CCTs and Systems for Video Technology.
Wayne A. I. Fredrick M.D. MBA, FACS entered Howard University as a student at age 16, earning his M.D. and B.S. at the age of 22. Later earning an MBA at his alma mater in Washington D.C. Dr. Fredrick was in 2014 unanimously elected president of Howard University. Born the son of a nurse in Trinidad & Tobago’s capital of Port of Pain, Dr. Fredrick suffers sickle cell anemia, and says the disease influenced his desire to work in Medicine.
Before becoming the Interim President and then President of Howard University, Dr. Fredrick was an assistant professor and director of surgical oncology at the University of Connecticut Health Center’s Department of Surgery, the Associate Director of the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center, and at Howard University he served as the division chief in the department of surgery, the director of the cancer center, the deputy provost for health sciences, and the associate dean in the college of medicine.
In June of 2014, the United States Congress recognized Dr. Fredrick for his contributions to the assessment of health disparities among black Americans and other underrepresented minorities.
Maxine Williams is the Global Director of Diversity for Facebook. In this role she has been a high profile advocate for diversity in Facebook, and in the larger tech economy, but Williams has also stood up for Trini and island heritage—even against the likes of US First Lady Michelle Obama! In her previous role at New York’s White & Case, she steered the law firm from #47 in diversity to becoming the #1 most diverse large firm in the entire United States. At Facebook, with its 12,000 employees, 50 percent of the workforce as a whole, and 90 percent of senior leaders have successfully completed the unconscious biases training course and its associated IAT: Implicit Association Test as a result of her initiatives and direction.
Born in Chaguanas, Trinidad & Tobago, Dr. Rudranath Capildeo is remembered by many in Trinidad & Tobago as a prominent lawyer, political partisan and statesman, but globally he is recognized for his contributions to physics and applied mathematics. Living from 1920 to 1970, Dr. Capildeo began studying medicine at Oxford University in England, but transferred to the University of London where he earned a bachelor’s of science in mathematics, a bachelors of science in physics, a master’s of science in mathematics, and a PhD in Mathematical Physics. Dr. Capildeo’s Theory of Rotation and Gravity, called Capildeo’s Theory, was applied successfully to manned spaceflight during the 1960s and 1970s.
Researching Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, Rudranath Capildeo developed “The Flexure Problem in Elasticity and in 1967 he published a text on physical mechanics and vector algebra.
Trinidadian statesman Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson is recognized globally as the father of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, pushing for the court’s creation with a proposal to the United Nations in June of 1989. Once the court was established by the U.N. General Assembly, Robinson was elected unanimously to the board of directors of the International Criminal Court’s Victims Trust Fund.
Dr. Roger Ramsammy is the President of Miami Dade College’s West Campus. A renowned academic and scientist, Ramsammy earned a PhD in Molecular Biology from Howard University and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Georgetown University’s Molecular Endocrinology Laboratory. Earlier in his career, Dr. Ramsammy was a professor of anatomy, physiology, microbiology and biology before moving into positions of academic leadership. Miami Dade College is one of the largest universities in the United States.
Literary critic and biographer Dr. Arnold Rampersad is a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist who has won both the MacArthur Genius Grant and the United States’ National Humanities Medal, after earning bachelors and masters degrees from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, Rampersad went on to earn a PhD from Harvard University. Dr. Rampersad’s early works include seminal biographies on Ralph Ellison and Langston Hughes.
While proud of its athletes, performers, and beauty queens, Trinidad & Tobago has much more to offer the world, such as a very highly educated, motivated workforce. History has seen many Trinidadians leaving the island paradise to find work abroad, but with new government initiatives, a vastly improved business climate, and serious ICT infrastructure, it may be time for the rest of the world to take advantage of Trinidad & Tobago’s deep talent pool by locating complex and high value-added professional services work in specialized areas such as legal process outsourcing, finance & accounting outsourcing, and other shared services work to the Caribbean nation. As shown, the nation of 1,400,000 is clearly doing something right when it comes to making intellectual contributions to the rest of the world.
Photo credit: NASA