2017 Rhodes Scholarship Winner

Local Economics lecturer takes 2017 Rhodes Scholarship

Rhodes Scholar by Aldane Walters | JamaicaObserver.com Career & Education writer

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When economics educator Shakeba Foster applied to the Jamaica Rhodes Scholarship Committee earlier this year, the only people she told about it were her aunts with whom she lives and a few close friends.

She didn’t want to potentially disappoint people, she said, especially not her mother who she described as “a crier”.

“In the back of my mind there was some doubt that I would get it even though I fit the academic criteria. Even on the day when I stepped into the (interview) room with nine other people who are as brilliant or possibly more brilliant than I am [the doubt lingered],” she told the Jamaica Observer.

“Folks have a tendency to get too excited when they hear about my achievements or potential achievements. I didn’t want to disappoint them, so I waited until it was over,” Foster added.

But no disappointment was on the cards, for on Thursday the 23-year-old economics educator emerged as the top seed of 10 shortlisted candidates after a nerve-racking day of interviews at King’s House, and was named the 2017 Jamaica Rhodes Scholar.

Her mother’s reaction?

“Well, as expected, she cried. She cried even more when it came over the news,” Foster said of her mother who migrated to the Cayman Islands many years ago.

Foster, a University of the West Indies (UWI) assistant lecturer, graduated at the top of her class with a masters degree in economics this year, and plans to pursue a master of philosophy in the field while at Oxford.

“I have two main passions,” she told Career & Education after accepting her award, “the first, of course, being teaching. I take every opportunity to teach, whether it’s via my job of lecturing, whether it’s by helping other students throughout courses at the university, whether it’s at church; every opportunity that I can I take to do teaching”.

Apart from lecturing in the economics department at the university, a post she has held since August, Foster runs CXC mathematics classes for her church and community members whenever she can.

“The ability to impact the minds of people; the ability to impact through giving knowledge, through encouraging greater levels of analysis, through encouraging open-minded thinking, through exposing young people to the world and the issues that are right now, is something that I consider a great privilege. Even without money, the fruits of it are enough payment,” she said, acknowledging that many teachers, particularly in the public system, feel underpaid.

For Foster, a St Jago High School alum who hails from Riversdale in St Catherine, being named Rhodes Scholar is a great responsibility and one which she attributes to God.

“Given the wealth of history that comes with the Rhodes Scholarship and given the magnitude of positive impacts that Rhodes scholars before have had, this means that there is a great responsibility on my shoulders to ensure that I live up to that tradition to ensure that I make as much as a mark as others have made before me. It means I have to do something worthwhile; it means all the investments that have been made in me, the fruits have started to show and I’m grateful,” she told Career & Education.

“My story is one of God’s favour and faithfulness. The past few years have proved to me that if one puts God first, the possibilities are endless,” she continued.

It was encouragement from her friends, including last year’s winner, reggae girl Sherona Forrester, that motivated Foster to apply for the award this year.

“The Rhodes Scholarship was always something I’d heard about but not taken a lot of interest in. However, last year a few of my friends applied, including Sherona. And when Sherona won, I thought, ‘Well, this is something that makes sense for me.’ I’ve always wanted to do a PhD in economics and I thought, ‘This is a good route to take. Let me apply and see what Rhodes has for me.’ And here I am,” she said.

In addition to being part of the women’s football and hockey teams and president of the social sciences honours society while at The UWI, Foster is youth president at Riversdale Pentecostal Church and regional president for the youth department of her church organisation’s Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Ja, Inc. This involvement with youth forms her other passion — impacting young people.

“I’m all about youth, she told Career & Education. “I’m all about teaching and so, however that fits into positively impacting Jamaica, however an Oxford education helps me to do that and do that to a better extent, or on a greater scale, then that’s exactly what I will do.”

In the meantime, she is excited about her future.

“I’m still trying to soak it all in. I’m excited about what the future holds. I definitely am grateful to God and grateful for the Rhodes selection committee for giving me this opportunity,” said Foster.

The Rhodes Scholarship was created as per the last will and testament of British politician, Cecil John Rhodes to provide funding for aspiring, international young leaders to study at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

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