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Laurier professor will help train next generation of Haitian scientists and innovators
Thélus Wilson has a passion for the marginalized people of society. A former school principal in northern Haiti, he left his stable job with a good income to start a school in his community for underprivileged children. It has been an incredible sacrifice — he has a disabled son, and he mortgaged his house to get the school established. Wilson is also a PhD student and just completed his first year at the Institut des sciences, des technologies et des études avancées d’Haïti (ISTEAH).
“He is building capacity in Haiti from the inside, first as a school principal and now as an emerging academic. He will be a person of influence in his area,” said Steve Sider, an assistant professor in Laurier’s Faculty of Education and an adjunct faculty member with ISTEAH, who will supervise Wilson in his dissertation research. “He will contribute to the development of others, which is at the heart of what ISTEAH is all about.”
Established last year, the non-profit institute hopes to educate and train 1,000 Haitian scientists and innovators in the next 10 years to support the country’s development. Since the fall, 61 students on three campuses in Haiti have been taking classes toward a doctorate, master’s degree or advanced graduate diploma in education, the first program offered at ISTEAH. While the student body is Haitian, the professors are from mostly Canadian universities. Some teach using videoconferencing, while others travel to Haiti to teach in-person for a few weeks at a time.
“There is limited capacity in Haiti from a higher-education perspective,” said Sider. “Because there is no funding for research, students go outside the country to study. This program allows them to study in Haiti, do research in Haiti and then build the capacity for educational leadership and development from within the country. It’s a beautiful model.”
Sider has a long history with Haiti. He first travelled to the country 10 years ago and started providing workshops to education leaders in different regions of the country. In 2011 he started the Digital Mentoring Program, which provides donated smartphones to principals in Haiti, and also connects education leaders in Haiti with principals in Canada for support and collaboration. The project started with five donated BlackBerry smartphones. Today, more than 150 Blackberry smartphones for administrators and 20 tablets for students have been donated.
Sider will travel to northern Haiti next month as part of a Laurier service-learning trip, which will also include Laurier teacher candidates and faculty, local school administrators, a director at Blackberry and staff from the Ontario Ministry of Education. For 12 days Laurier students will be involved in ESL programming at local schools, while the other participants will provide leadership and teaching workshops for administrators. Sider will also conduct research for the Digital Mentoring Project, studying how local educational administrators are using the mobile devices.
Wilson helped facilitate Laurier’s service-learning trip to Haiti last fall, accompanying the group to schools in the northern part of the country. This time, the Laurier group will visit Wilson’s new school in Cap-Haitien and deliver donated laptops from the university’s Faculty of Education. The used computers will help establish a student computer lab.
“When we saw Thélus last spring and heard about his plans for this school, we all fell in love with his vision,” said Sider. “His own life is not easy, but he has a passion for marginalized people and is doing things that those of us who have much easier lives can’t even comprehend. It’s very gratifying to not only contribute to his educational development, but to see him going on to contribute to the development of others.”