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Wonder women: Francia Greaves and Icilma Thornhill


Wonder women: Francia Greaves and Icilma Thornhill

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FRANCIA GREAVES WAS was always regarded as “Miss Fix It” from as long as she can remember. As a child she liked watching her dad, a draughtsman, work on projects and she observed everything little thing he did.

After she completed school, she wanted to become an electrical engineer, and she soon realised that electrical work encompassed a variety of other skills she learnt at home.

“To apply for electrical engineering I needed to have something to work with – a finished product – and that is where mechanical engineering came into play. I had to first design something and then power it.”

Francia, now 39, added that choosing her career was not difficult because her family was supportive of her endeavours: “I can remember there were times when my mum told me to go and do my homework and she would cook. She even brought my food for me while I was doing work on the floor and I appreciated that a great deal.”

Recalling some of her childhood memories Francia told EASY she enjoyed reading and playing house but playing with boys was more fun.

“I liked climbing trees and cutting coconuts and I believe I have mastered the art of cutting them. I have four siblings and the girls are older than the boys, so when something went wrong when we were younger, our parents called on the girls.

“My eldest sister would say, ‘Francia, since you’re accustomed doing a lot of boy things you go and fix it’. So I ended up changing fuses and using foil to supplement them and I also used to fix bicycles. And if there was a two-pin that had to be changed into a three-pin they would be like, ‘Let Francia do it’. So this lifestyle became natural.

“My career therefore had to be something physical whereby I would always have to use my hands and not just be behind a desk,” she said.

Working in a male-dominated field may be intimidating, but this was not the case when Francia starting teaching at the Barbados Community College (BCC). She said she never had to prove her intelligence or worth.

Francia, a St Lucian born, received a bachelor’s degree of science in 2002, a masters degree in project management and evaluation in 2009 after she received a diploma in education at the Barbados Community College. She completed sixth form at The Lodge School after she attended Leon Hess Comprehensive Secondary School in St Lucia.

“When I was younger I worked in the printing press at a local media house and as a young person I realised there was room for improvement. So when I came to BCC I always kept being humble in mind and I took advice from people senior to me. Since I had that personality, I found that everyone wanted to help me and I grew, so there was no room for intimidation; everything went smoothly.

“I also realised that I had a personality which caused people to laugh so that cemented everything into place.”

Looking at her performance Francia confessed there was room for improvement.

“If you worked in the industry for a long time, you would be able to relate more practical examples in the classroom, so leaving school and going straight into teaching, although I worked six months in the printing press, is a bit challenging. If I had a more experienced background I would be able to relate more to students but everything is a growing process.

“There are times when you learn from your peers, especially from the head of the department, Mr Moore, who was very helpful along the way. He helped me understand that I had to take it one day at a time. So before I taught the students I prepared my lessons as best I could and anything else I sought advice on.”

Francia, a mother of two, told EASY that she treats her students just like how her mother treated her when she was studying. She said she makes sure they eat breakfast and take vitamins before they come to class. Francia said she liked sharing her life story with her students so they would understand that they could achieve anything they put their minds to.

ICILMA THORNHILL ALWAYS lived by a code of discipline, something she picked up from her father, who spent over 15 years in the Barbados Defence Force (BDF).

“I grew up with two brothers, and I had a natural inclination to be interested in the things they were doing. I also admired my dad and I wanted to be in the BDF just like him. Seeing him in camouflage and in his uniforms was it for me so I knew the force was for me.”

Her mother was very supportive of her career choice and gave her leeway to pursue her dreams.

After being recruited for the BDF, she spent two weeks training with the Coast Guard and she saw a group of engineers working on engines. The 40-year-old explained that some of her BDF colleagues encouraged her to complete the mechanical engineering course at the Barbados Community College (BCC) since she showed such enthusiasm for that field. She fell in love with the powerful machines and soon the midshipman/officer cadet left the BDF to teach mechanical engineering at BCC.

Icilma earned a certificate in refrigeration and air conditioning at the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic, a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus and an associate degree in the same field at the Barbados Community College.

Although Icilma has a close relationship with her students, she mixes up teaching engineering as a discipline with the discipline she received through the BDF. Having no children of her own, she considers her students as her babies and told EASY she wanted the best for them and for each to excel in their own way.

“We are trying to prepare them for the world of work so although I teach them theory I try to get in as much practical as possible. I try to instil in them that what they learn here is necessary for the world of work even if it may not seem as though it is applicable. But when they go out there I want them to be fully equipped in whatever they do, so learning these things would be useful.

“Yes, they ask how maths would come into play and why learning all these rules and procedures in the workshop is important but I told them that if they work for Barbados Light and Power Company or Arawak Cement Company they are going to expect that you are fully aware of health and safety practices.

“So I try my best to explain the reasoning behind wearing something as simple as safety shoes and glasses.”

Icilma added that she tries to maintain discipline in her classroom because she wants to get good feedback from employees when she asks about her students. In addition, Icilma likes to keep up her appearance although she is not too much into looking prim.

Laughing, she said she likes to make sure she has a clean round up and admitted that she is not afraid of wearing a dress if she must. She told EASY that her friend forced her to wear earrings and her favourite piece of jewellery is a watch.

She said her appearance is important in the classroom because it shows her students that the way they carry themselves is also important.