NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly famously called the Bahamas, “the most beautiful place from space.”
The 700-island archipelago spans the ocean with islands that boast white shimmering sand beaches and some of the clearest water on earth. The islands are known for many things from pirate forts to the famous Junkanoo festival.
Something that most people don’t know is the Bahamas are also the home of some very successful engineers and they are graduates of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.
Christina Alston is the Transmission Development Manager for Georgia Transmission in Atlanta. Alston graduated with her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1991. Alston grew up in Freeport on Grand Bahama Island and became an engineer when there were few women role models.
“It was difficult to aspire to be a woman engineer when there were none in my community, “Alston said.” Several gentlemen in the country recognized my technical ability and encouraged me to pursue my engineering career.”
Alston noticed that many people in the islands during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s did not have access to reliable electricity and that was a motivating factor for her to become an engineer.
“My grandmother did not have access to reliable electricity,” Alston said.” There was a great disparity between electricity in the Family Islands and Freeport, so understanding the importance of electricity spurred me to go into Electrical Engineering and ultimately the utility industry.”
Alston graduated from high school at age 16 and getting into a university proved to be a challenge but her recruiter from college and her counselor were able to work out the details and she was on her way to becoming an engineer at Florida State University.
“Being on campus was a big adjustment for me at such a young age but the college of engineering was like a school, within a school,” Alston said. “I loved having the support of both FAMU and FSU. I had friends from both schools and the cultural diversity at the college enriched the experience for me.”
Kenya Longley is a project engineer for Bahamas Power and Light Corporation, in Nassau, Bahamas. Longley graduated with a Ph.D. in civil engineering in 2019. She was born in the West End of Grand Bahama Island and now lives in Nassau.
Longley originally wanted to be a farmer but as she progressed through her studies, she discovered she didn’t like the hands-on aspect of farming. Realizing she was more interested in the science behind agriculture, she pursued engineering.
“I took a course in horticulture in the Netherlands and decided that hands-on farming was not for me,” Longley said. “I heard about a program called agricultural engineering and I ended up at FAMU, where I met many people who believed in me. They ended up becoming my engineering family.”
Longley is one of the project engineers on a massive development to increase generation capacity for the company. She also works with environmental issues involving surface and groundwater issues related to the facility. She remembered fondly her time at the college.
“I was in love with Florida A&M University after getting my bachelor's at the [joint] college,” Longley said.” Many of the relationships I have today were formed at the college. I met many friends at the engineering school who became like family to me.”
Cedenyo Pratt got his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at the college via Florida A&M University in 2008 and is now the Director of Operations for Integrated Building Services in Nassau, Bahamas.
Pratt comes from a lineage of construction builders. Many members of his family and extended family were building contractors and started a family business in construction. Pratt decided to go into the construction industry and pursue a civil engineering degree. He now manages the day-to-day operations of a firm that provides civil and structural engineering consulting services for the islands.
Pratt was able to benefit from a “Junkanoo” scholarship program to fund his education. Junkanoo is a staple in the Bahamian culture which involves instrumental music and hand-made costumes. The cultural program through FAMU allowed Bahamians to display their culture while receiving reduced tuition according to Pratt. Many Bahamian students are also eligible and supported by their departments with the Latin American Caribbean Scholarship that allows Bahamians to get in-state tuition. Both FAMU and FSU offer this scholarship program.
“Getting my degree at the college gave me the chance to work at an engineering firm in California immediately after graduation,” Pratt said. “I secured this position at a career fair at the school and it ended up being a major springboard for my career and the opportunities that followed.”
Other Bahamian alumni
There are many other Bahamians who have found success after gracing the halls of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering; Virley McKinney, Rayford Rahming, Bently Higgs and Chelsea Armbrister to name a few. Each of their stories is unique and each path different. In the end, the opportunities available at the college and the Bahamian engineering spirit make for a great partnership.
“The beauty of an engineering degree from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering is that it allows a broad array of career paths within the entire gamut of engineering,” Pratt said. “Engineering candidates are highly valued because we have a knack for solving problems and our scientific background makes us respected.”