USM Welcomes its First PhD Researcher

The University of St. Martin (USM) announced the arrival of Lysanne Charles, the first person to pursue her doctoral studies on island while being hosted by the university in its Island(er)s at the Helm program.

Last week proved to be momentous for country Sint Maarten as the University of St. Martin (USM) welcomed its first ever doctoral researcher. On 6 September, Lysanne Charles became the first person to commence her doctoral studies on island while being hosted by the university.

A local sociologist and civil servant, Charles’ research will be centred on climate change policy and governance in Sint Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius. She will be studying the importance of community engagement and participation in the development of policies that will support the islands and their people to becoming more resilient during the intensification of hurricanes, drought and coastal erosion.

Climate policy and governance is one of four areas covered by the programme Island(er)s at the Helm, which was kicked-off in September by USM, the Royal Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV), TU Delft, University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) and the University of Amsterdam. The programme was awarded €3.5 million by the Netherlands Research Council (NWO) for research into the co-creation of sustainable solutions to climate change challenges across the Caribbean part of the Dutch Kingdom. The five-year enterprise headed by former USM President Dr. Francio Guadeloupe and Leiden University Professor Dr. Corinne Hofman, Island(er)s at the Helm will use archaeology, cultural anthropology, engineering and political science to advance practical answers for problems related to water, shelter and food.

Also commencing their journey to earning their doctorates with Island(er)s at the Helm are visual artist Sharelly Emanuelson in Curaçao and archaeologist Harold Kelly in Aruba. While Emanuelson will conduct multi-sited field work related to the “coloniality of disaster” on all six islands of the Dutch Kingdom, Kelly will be looking into long-term evidence for social adaptation to climatic changes in Aruba, Bonaire and Sint Maarten. Alongside Lysanne Charles, Emanuelson and Kelly constitute the first cohort of Ph.D. candidates of the Transatlantic research programme. Charles will be employed by UVI in partnership with USM for a period of four years to complete her research and will submit her doctoral requirements to the University of Amsterdam.

“I am pleased to have been selected to conduct research on governance strategies and climate change policies as a part of the Island(er)s at the Helm programme and I am excited to be based at the University of St. Martin. The issues of security around water, food, shelter and energy are critical to the well-being of populations on small islands such as St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius, and I look forward to conducting research and engaging with the diverse communities in all three places. As a daughter of the region I am proud and happy to be attached to a Caribbean institution; academically, it feels good to come home and to have come full circle, having completed my undergrad in the US and my graduate studies in the Netherlands. Having worked with and for vulnerable groups in the past I am eager to see what role research can play in supporting the development of sustainable policies and strategies for our own survival and advancement”, said Lysanne Charles.

For this Ph.D. position, Charles had to undergo rigorous evaluation by the Kingdom’s highest scientific authorities and compete with other highly qualified candidates. USM President Dr. Antonio Carmona Báez, who will serve as Lysanne Charles’ supervisor, highlighted the importance of having a local person studying policy development.

“If political science is the study of power relations and we are conscious that knowledge is power, the findings of one local Ph.D. student in this field will become extremely valuable. What we are doing here is placing knowledge in the hands of the people of the islands to help shape our destiny. Ms. Charles has set out to engage the community in the development of just, equitable and sustainable policy solutions related to climate change”, said Carmona in written statements to the press. Before joining USM, Dr. Carmona published research on development theories, sustainable energy policies and decolonial thought in the Caribbean and the Netherlands.

Island(er)s at the Helm is one of three research initiatives USM is co-hosting with other institutions in the region like the University of Curaçao and the University of Aruba. The other two include Food Security and Economic Diversification, and Upholding Human Rights During the Pandemic, which looks at the impact of COVID-19 policies on vulnerable families in Curaçao, Aruba and Sint Maarten. In partnership with the University of the Virgin Islands and TU Delft, USM will host an additional Ph.D. researcher in architecture in January 2022.

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