Kenrick — A Conversation with Kenrick Mark Coleman Features Robert Hernandez
The Kenrick Mark Coleman Foundation
“Intelligence, Discipline, Wisdom, Excellence”
Kenrick – A Conversation with Kenrick Mark Coleman Features Robert Hernandez
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Robert Stedman Hernandez. I am a young, vibrant, and hardworking Garifuna youth, born and raised in Orange Walk Town.
I lived 19 years in Orange Walk Town. I attended Louisiana Government School, Muffles High School and Muffles Junior College. After my dedicated tenure at M.J.C, I successfully graduated with an Associate’s degree in Environmental Science. I was involved in many activities at my schools, including sports and environmental projects.
I enrolled at the University of Belize in Belmopan to pursue my Bachelor’s degree in
Natural Resource Management. My tenure was filled with academic development, community sessions, projects with NGOs, conferences, etc. I volunteered with the
Pan American Health Organization to create hazard maps for Dangriga, which are posted in front of the Southern Regional Hospital.
I proudly represented Belize in Track and Field competitions (shot put and discus). These include the CODICADER Games (Central American under 18) in 2009 and 2011, Central American Junior Championships in 2011 and JUDUCA University Games in 2014.
Currently, I am in Europe pursuing Post Graduate studies.
I love being outside, experimenting with new technology, and socializing with friends.
2. You are currently pursuing your Post Graduate degree in Engineering in Poland. What do you believe is important in this your role?
I am currently pursuing my Master of Science degree in Engineering with a specialization in Mobile Mapping and Navigation Systems at Warsaw University of Technology in Poland. I believe an open mind is extremely important to succeed in this major. It beckons you to think critically, and I love a good challenge. I am hopeful to utilize my knowledge and experience to contribute to sustainable and progressive development in the Caribbean.
3. Tell us more about your academic life at this University? How did you receive the scholarship? Why did you choose this particular University? When did you commence studies? What subject areas are focused on? What’s your relationship like with fellow students?
Warsaw University of Technology is the top technical university in Poland, ranking 2nd overall country wide. It is in the list of top 1000 universities in the world.
The degree primarily focuses on technology used in navigation technologies. Understanding how GPS systems in our smart phones are utilized, and breaking down sensors and code relating to things we use every day like google maps and street view are classic examples.
My degree is self- funded. A scholarship would have been paramount; however, my undergraduate grades weren’t exactly the best. I decided to embrace best efforts for excellence at post graduate level. I planned for years before deciding to leave Belize.
I found this program on one of my usual searches for a Master’s degree surrounding Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and its associated technologies. I wanted to do more than just put maps together. I was determined to learn how things worked on the back end. I was anxious to know how to build a complete integrated mapping system from the ground up. This includes sensors used in data collection, processing and of course visualization. I was scouting schools globally, and like most Belizeans I was initially focused on schools in English speaking countries, primarily the US and Canada. However, those schools were quite expensive. My mind is deep but my pockets aren’t. After years of searching, I saw an ad on a geography website about a program at Warsaw University of Technology. I looked up the curriculum and the courses real world applications. It was love at first sight.
At this point, I already received rejection letters from universities in Europe, Australia, UK and the US. I wasn’t exactly optimistic. To shield myself from another rejection letter, I emailed the Programme Director expressing interest in the programme, attaching my CV. He responded swiftly and encouraged me to apply.
I received my acceptance letter the following week and began my visa process. I applied in May 2021 and began studies in October that year. I did the first two weeks of classes online from Belize and struggled to keep up with the time difference. I was still working at the Belize Electricity Limited and Poland is 8 hours ahead. My classes began at midnight and finished at 7:30 am. I had to clock in at BEL at 7 am and work until 5 pm. Luckily, we were working remotely, but I still had to travel certain days for various work projects.
I arrived in Poland mid October and the rest is history.
My courses are mainly programming based, developing geoprocessing tools and systems using python and doing some database management with SQL. We were also introduced to modern mapping technologies such as Terrestrial and Aerial Laser scanners (LIDAR) and Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) which is the technology used to develop autonomous vehicles.
The cohort is truly diverse! Students from India, Poland, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Indoneisa, Nigeria, Rwanda and Kenya are here developing their academic sphere. It has been an exceptional experience discussing similarities and differences between cultures. We have quite the mutualistic relationship on and off campus.
4. Describe your transformation process from Belize to Poland?.
Growth wouldn’t even be a word I would use to describe the feeling. Eye opening is an understatement.
It is always a vibrant moment especially when diving into the colourful history of Poland, understanding the trials and tribulations they experienced as a country and as a people. It is wonderful to understand how they developed so quickly (apart from having access to EU funds). In terms of personal transformation, I became more diligent as this course is quite intense and the professors ensure you are on top of your game at all times. Discipline is a must!
5. What are the challenges you face as a student at university? Opportunities?
The main challenge I face as an international student is the language barrier. Polish is the 3rd most difficult language in the world, next to Mandarin and Arabic. While a huge number of youth speak English and Warsaw is quite the international community, most people prefer to communicate in Polish. A majority of the older population doesn’t speak English.
It makes shopping at local markets a challenge; however, google translate is your friend.
Opportunities are a dime a dozen. Poland is one of those countries which allows students to work on a full-time basis while studying. There are numerous job fairs on campus. My school is an engineering university, so technology giants like Samsung and Huawei frequent the school looking for recruits.
6. Why is your major important to Belize’s National Progressive and Sustainable Development?
My major falls under many of the Sustainable Development Goals which Belize is currently trying to achieve. There is direct focus especially on Life below water, Life on land, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, Clean Energy and Smart Cities. The technology surrounding mobile mapping systems is foundational in conducting studies which can assist Belize in achieving any of the SDG’s. For instance, we can use Lidar and Photogrammetry for innovation and infrastructure. Also, GIS and remote sensing can be utilized for habitat studies, vegetation management, forestry management, etc. Furthermore, it lends an excellent hand in the field of spatial planning, which is where the world is leaning in terms of development and strategy. As a matter of fact, location intelligence is your driving decision maker.
7. Apart from your studies, do you participate in activities with other Belizeans/classmates there? How do you uphold Belize’s namesake?
I haven’t met any other Belizeans in Poland as yet. It would be nice to meet one or a few. I have met other Belizeans studying across Europe and we constantly discuss how our various fields of study can improve lives back home.
In terms of upholding Belize’s namesake, I always strive to be the best version of me. For most Polish people, they’ve never heard of Belize or met a Belizean. I ensure every encounter leaves them with a smile and a need to visit Belize.
8. In one of my recent articles, I stated: 'It is important to realize that majority of Belize’s younger populations continue to be very mediocre as it relates to becoming holistically educated and cultured, personally and professionally.' What’s your perspective on this?
I believe this stems from a few things - our education system, our leaders and the phrase we frequently use “Only ina Belize” which will bring about our detriment. It seems like a noticeable percentage of Belizeans are content with only what a Belizean education provides and are comfortable within the confines of home, therefore we live in a bubble. The way our education system is set up places false hopes into the minds of our citizens. We are taught to be employees and not employers. We equate degrees to status (financial and social) and are taught to believe that upon completing high school, or junior college or university that these doors will magically open and we will be able to afford a house, land and vehicle.
We also have the influence of the generation that came before us, many of whom 'succeeded' while achieving mediocre productivity. This includes officials from many administrations. Some of these people are the prime example of (why we are what we are and why we settle for mediocrity because we see a broken system that works). ‘If it isn’t broken, why fix it? Right?’
We create and conserve an environment where innovation and morale goes down before the sun down. However, this statement doesn’t diminishes the actions of those who organized and worked endlessly with full dedication – the unsung heroes. What we see in the mainstream is eventually who we become.
I can remember as a child having big dreams of becoming a scientist. I also remember having my hopes constantly pushed down by friends, family and teachers for being too big. They said that I should settle for something which (I thought) would barely keep me afloat. Many people succumb to that pressure! Many people aren’t offered the opportunity to even escape from that pressure. Even if you are able to escape for a few years, you return to be trapped in that bubble again.
One phrase which irritates (and which many Belizeans use) is “Nothing deh da Belize fi yuh, stay outside”. That is not true and I refuse to believe and be a part of that mindset! We need to be the change we want to see in this life.
9. What can Belize expect from you in let’s say, the next 5 years?
After completing my degree, I do plan to expand on a small business I started before I left home called The Spatial Center. It is an organization which focuses on geographic technology research and applications. Integrating things like GIS, Photogrammetry, LIDAR and a multitude of other geo sensing technologies to create applications meet the needs of Belize’s industries. I also hope to build a team that will partner with our educational, government and non-government institutions to conduct research and establish a knowledge exchange. In the long term (hopefully 10 years or less), I would like to bring in international organizations which will offer opportunities for Belizeans to increase their technical capacities in terms of geographic technology. Belize is physically and politically placed at a strategic point whereby we can make proper use of every opportunity which comes our way. This one is for the people and to ensure that there is always a reason to come back to Belize!
10. What three words do you have to say to young Belizeans?
Do the thing!
…Because your ideas are valid and your creativity can and will lead to great things!