University of Guyana alumni in Ontario thrown a lifeline
August 16, 2018
Crestfallen upon learning last May that the University of Guyana Guild of Graduates Ontario (UGGGO) was folding after 22 years, Guyana’s consul general in Toronto Anyin Choo is excited after the sinking organization was thrown a lifeline.
Dormant for the past four years, the local alumni network has been resuscitated as part of the parent body’s University of Guyana Alumni Association (UGAA) outreach program to engage graduates in the diaspora.
Choo graduated from UG in 1996 with a computer science diploma.
“With all the graduates the university has produced over the years, I believe there are many who are willing to devote time and effort to give back to the institution that gave them a sound academic foundation that their careers are built on,” she said.
“The university has touched the lives of Guyanese in so many ways. Despite numerous challenges, UG has been able to lay a strong foundation for Guyanese, many of whom have become distinguished professionals nationally and internationally. This is due to the unwavering commitment to academic excellence by both lecturers and students. UG is not just a tertiary institution. It’s a Guyanese pride and legacy that has produced world-class graduates.”
Prominent alumni residing in the Greater Toronto & Hamilton Area include Dr. Jamal Deen who was recently appointed to the Order of Canada and the Dye siblings.
Dr. Debra Dye-Torrington is a rheumatologist, Colin Dye is the principal at Bendale Business & Technical Institute and Valerie Dye is a lawyer.
UGGGO founding member Harry Hergash, who was among the university’s first intake of 165 students in 1963, was pivotal in keeping afloat the organization that contributed almost Can$20,000 to several UG initiatives, including financial awards to outstanding students.
“Harry is a wonderful example of what the UG ‘PRIDE’ is all about,” said Dr. Paloma Mohamed Martin who is the deputy vice-chancellor of philanthropy, alumni & civic engagement (PACE) set up 19 months ago to establish and support alumni associations and connect with alumni across the world.
Members of the alumni association in Ontario and the rest of the diaspora are referred to as ‘The PRIDE’ because of the association’s logo featuring a majestic lion astride Guyana’s globally significant Roraima mountain range.
Dr. Michael Scott, the deputy vice-chancellor in charge of academic engagement, also thanked Hergash for his contributions and recognized other graduates in Toronto as ‘the pride of the university’.
“I recognize you as productive and responsive to the needs of the university,” he pointed out. “You are continually involved in the world of UG, you are diligent about what you are doing and you demonstrate endurance. As part of the engagement, we aren’t only seeking your time, but also your talent and thoughts because they are all critical to advancing the university.”
UG registrar Dr. Nigel Gravesande accompanied Mohamed Martin and Scott to Toronto for the ceremony to mark the UGGGO rejuvenation.
“The goal of the UG alumni is to connect graduates, past faculty & staff, supporters and well-wishers in a reciprocally beneficial relationship of investing, nurturing, fundraising, mentorship and development,” he said. “Members of the association would be called upon to provide opportunities for connecting, fellowship and sharing in our own personal and professional growth.”
Gravesande spent six years as a student at the university and had 15 lecturers, including sociologist Michael Parris who resides in the Greater Toronto Area and was in the audience.
The rebranded alumni Association Toronto chapter, which was launched on July 19, has adopted the UGAA- sanctioned constitution that will allow the university’s supporters and well-wishers to become members.
Guyanese-born Princess Alexander, the president & managing partner at Alexander Learmond that co-sponsored the reception with CGX Energy which is a Canadian-based oil & gas exploration company, welcomed the move.
Alexander Learmond is a strategy management practice that helps organizations to innovate and build sustainable master plans.
Alexander, who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in statistics and is a transformational strategist, fell in love with UG after returning to Guyana in 2012 for the first time in nearly 30 years.
“Because of my engagement in the education space in Canada, one of the first places I went to on my return was UG,” the Ryerson University Ted Rogers School of Management program advisory council, entrepreneurship & strategy vice-chair said. “I was asked to join a senior team planning meeting for the university’s 50th anniversary celebrations and I felt welcomed and quite at home.
“Each time I have gone back to UG, I am captivated by the students I meet. My thought has always been, ‘What an abundance of talent’. The challenge is to bridge the gap between talent and opportunities. I am hoping that the various alumni associations and networks that are being established will bring an abundance of opportunities for UG students, pre and post-graduation.”
In order to increase membership, infuse new blood and be relevant, Alexander encouraged the parent organization to take control of the university’s stories through branding and leveraging technology among other things.
Juanita Westmoreland-Traore, Quebec’s first Black judge and the product of Guyanese immigrants, was also at the reception.
Arthur Westmoreland arrived in Canada at age 13 to join his older brother, who owned a small business in Montreal and an Ottawa farm while Alma Parris followed a few years later. They married in 1940 and Parris died 12 years later at age 36.
The family patriarch worked as a railroad porter and was a member of several community organizations, including the Negro Citizenship Association and his church’s board of trustees. He died in 1997.
The first Black dean of a Canadian law school through her appointment at the University of Windsor Faculty of Law in 1996, Westmoreland – who has paid three visits to Guyana -- was in the process of establishing a collaboration between her university and UG when she was appointed a judge in April 1999 and the plan was shelved.
“I am working with the university’s law faculty to see what books and other resources they need that I could help to put together for them,” she said.
UG has produced 31,105 graduates since its inception 55 years ago with just three faculties. The current student population is 8,440 engaged in 109 certificate, undergraduate, Master’s and Ph.D. programs.
The first alumni association was launched in England on August 3. Alumni groups will be set up in Washington later this year and in the Caribbean in early 2019.
Individuals interested in joining the new association can contact Princess Alexander at firstname.lastname@example.org.