Special Features
January 9, 2009
I would like to open an orphanage and a home for abused women

by Viclene Matthews 09.JAN.09

What must have seemed like curve ball at the time turned out to be a door opening many unseen opportunities for Dr Jacqueline James.

The Chateaubelair born, who grew up at Rawacoo, left these shores in 1996 to further her studies on a scholarship provided by the United States Coast Guard Academy. Thirteen years later, she holds a PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Miami.{{more}}

Jacqueline said that after completing her A’ levels at the St. Vincent Grammar School, she was looking at avenues to further her education, and while attending the Coast Guard Youth Summer programme in 1994, she conceived a love for engineering. “I needed an opportunity. I needed to go and study. Once I got involved in that programme, I realized I really liked what they were doing – the engineering part of it.”

The first Vincentian to graduate from the United States Coast Guard Academy, Jacqueline was presented with her certificate of graduation by then United States President Bill Clinton. He personally congratulated her on her performance at the Academy where she had an outstanding record both in academics and athletics.

Her plan had been to complete the four-year Civil Engineering programme at the Academy and then return home to take up a job at the Coast Guard. But according to Jacqueline, the lack of readiness of the local Coast Guard to facilitate her return turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to the former athlete and Girls’ High School student.

Now, Dr Jacqueline James is a Booz Allen Professor of Engineering and Director of the Building Environment Systems Laboratory at the University of Miami. Jacqueline is also a Consultant and Proprietor of Imara Engineering, a business she hopes someday will have offices throughout the Caribbean.

With no job to return to at home, her strong academic credentials gained her a scholarship to read for a Master’s degree in Architectural Engineering at the University of Miami.

During her Master’s programme, the daughter of Michael and Phyllis Cornetta James, of Rawacoo, was invited to commence her doctoral studies because of research she started with a professor who thought that they were on the road to making a discovery. “The product that we came up with for my PhD was a product that interacts with air. The smell of new carpets and rugs is actually a release of VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) in the air, so that’s what makes us sick. So what I wanted to do was before those products are emitted into the air, to have a product present that interacts with them, changing them to Carbon Dioxide and water so we can no longer have that pollution.”

The product is presently being patented by the University of Miami.

Jacqueline, who said she was “hell bent” on finishing her PhD studies in three years, describes the process as “difficult”. But in the same breath, she mused: “Honestly, it was really worth it”.

Laughing, she recounted an incident where she was re-reading her thesis when she realized that she had made a few mistakes with some calculations. “I took the entire thing threw it outside and went to sleep”.

Not having any regrets about the course her life has taken, Jaqueline’s ambition is to some day open a technical school in St Vincent and the Grenadines which would provide students with a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering. She also would like to open an orphanage and a centre for abused women.

When she is not designing, building or teaching, one can find Jacqueline spending time with her sisters Noni and Racquel.

Her advice to persons seeking opportunities to develop themselves is: “Please do not wait for a door to open for you. I think if you want something and no matter who has said you can’t have it, once you have the passion for it you will find it somewhere.”