Ren�e Richardson-Gosline treasures her Trini roots. While she was not born here, she feels a close connection to her parents' homeland.So much so, that the assistant professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts, recently led 27 students on a study tour to Cuba and T&T to examine behaviour in the two countries.
Their visit to Cuba was also well-timed as United States President Barack Obama was there at the time.They studied, researched and examined T&T before their visit here and were able to present "some real actionable proposals" to key stakeholders during meetings and discussions.
Ever wondered why Trinis live in the tropics but consume blueberries and raspberries from California in the United States?The class examined how emerging economies such as T&T and Cuba could reap benefits from a behavioral science perspective. Behavioural science is the study of human and animal behaviour.
The students also looked at the way this country, enriched by its oil production, could embrace renewable energy sources.They were able to generate ideas and solutions and share them with relevant stakeholders.
Richardson-Gosline said: "But most importantly, we will have the rare opportunity to listen and learn how the behavioural concepts that we test in the laboratory may or may not be applicable to real-world problems.
"We're realistic that changes won't be made immediately and it may take time for the ideas to spread. That's okay."She told the Sunday Guardian during her short stay: "One of the pleasures of being a professor is that I get to really craft and shape the way in which we investigate how things we study affect the real world and this particular class is on behavioural science.
"It was inspired by a recent development in a behavioural science office in President Obama's administration and their collaboration with like offices in the UK and Netherlands.
"These groups of scientists are trying to understand how behavioural science can be applied to improve the quality of life and application to various sectors in countries."
She felt it was an exciting time to apply behavioural science in the Caribbean. The group was hosted by the Trinidad Hotels, Restaurants & Tourism Association (THRTA) and the Tourism Development Company.
A 'huge step' for the Caribbean
Richardson-Gosline has been a professor for about six years at MIT and prior to that, was at Harvard Business School where she received her doctorate and graduate and undergraduate training.
"I have worked as a practitioner but now I am in academia working with practitioners as well as with students, trying to close the gap between theory and practice," she said during an interview at the Hyatt Regency in Port-of-Spain.
She and her team had just concluded a breakfast meeting with officials from the American Chamber of T&T; T&T Chamber of Commerce; T&T Coalition of Services Industries and the THRTA.
She said the trip was the first of its kind at Sloan School "so there are a lot of eyes on it."
The petite professor was named one of the "World's Top 40 Professors under 40."
She said as far as she knew, no one had done a behavioural science tour that looked at a Caribbean nation and from her academic standpoint: "I think this is a huge step."
"I think that the Caribbean represents incredible opportunity and for this particular study tour we are looking at two nations that, in my opinion, are at a really fantastic moment in time where behavioural science can have impact."
It's a labour of love
So why exactly did she choose T&T for a study tour?Her parents moved to the States before she was born. She said they sacrificed a lot to provide her with opportunities.She was born and raised in Brooklyn but said: "I've never been to any place like Trinidad."
"And so, it's really been a dream of mine really, to be able to, in some way, reverse the flow and give back or come back to Trinidad and provide opportunity for Trinidad and Tobago and so, I would say this is a labour of love."
She said apart from her immense love for the island, its culture and people, her choice for Trinidad was not only because of it being the New York of the Caribbean, where there are incredible opportunities for commerce, tourism and culture but also because, "I also know from first-hand experience how special this country is, and I really wanted to share that with the brilliant students of MIT."
None of the MBA students, who were in their mid-20s and early 30s, had been to T&T before. Already on their second day, they had eaten doubles and had fallen in love with Port-of-Spain and its people.Richardson-Gosline said the students were "pleasantly surprised" at the country's uniqueness and warmth of the people.
"Several of them have already made plans to return, so that's a nice by-product."
She said T&T has a lot of potential and she'd like to see it realised.
"That's why I am here."