Dr. Natasha Gittens about her departure from Scell:
”I weep quietly inside”
By Terrance Rey
GREAT BAY – The business community in St. Maarten was set alight on Friday with the announcement that Dr. Natasha Gittens had resigned as Director of the University of St. Martin’s Scell program. In a press release published on Friday, the university’s board thanked Dr. Gittens for her contribution. This newspaper sought out Dr. Gittens for an interview as it is yet another departure of yet another director at university over the past few years in a row and a personal insight into the motivations of this move was felt to be warranted.
“To be honest, I have been saddened by it.” says Gittens when asked how she felt about her sudden departure. “I weep quietly inside.” Such a highly personal statement seems a-typical for someone who has made a bold and strong presence felt in the business community at large on St. Maarten in such a short period of time through a unique program aptly named “School of Continuing Education & Life Long Learning” started in 2015.
Scell is the business arm segment of the USM set up to provide training catered specifically to the business, civil service and non-governmental sectors on St. Maarten. Dr. Gittens, who has a Ph.D. in Business Management and is a Certified Master Hospitality Educator (CHE), helped earn USM’s first accredited academic program in the history of the university, the BTEC hospitality program, under the auspices of the renowned Business & Technology Education Council of the United Kingdom.
Photo caption: Dr. Gittens together with USM-Scell students staff team in celebration of first anniversary in September 2016. Photo contributed
Gittens was instrumental in fostering a positive image for the USM-Scell program as the university board wanted a separate branding strategy for this segment of the university’s training movement. Gittens immediately exhibited a unique approach to choosing staff for Scell by specifically selecting BTEC Hospitality students to be a part of her professional team. “My time at Scell has been quite an experience.” says Kharl Oliver, a senior BTEC Hospitality student. “I have learned to be more assertive and goal-oriented under the supervision of Dr. Natasha Gittens.” Another senior BTEC Hospitality student, Rochana Richards, echoed the same sentiments, adding that she had learned to be a team player, a better communicator and that she had gained experience and knowledge that will act as a strong foundation for her future occupations by working under Dr. Gittens.
It has been acknowledged by many business leaders in the community, such as Romeo Fleming of Hertz St. Maarten, who has already signed on to continue working with Dr. Gittens’ new firm, and Celine van Meer, Manager Director of Divi Little Bay Resort, that Gittens groomed the students well, mentored them and used her expertise to provide them with a solid professional foundation for their futures. Clients such as Derek Jack, Managing Director of the KFC/Pizza Hut franchise, and Iris Arrindell, Chief Financial Officer of Gebe, who interacted with the staff firsthand, were amazed and impressed with the professionalism of the students and admired Gittens for investing so much of her personal and professional time in the future leaders of St. Maarten.
“We did not have a job description,” says USM graduate Micheline Reenis, who also worked at Scell. “We all worked together for the success of the clients and the unity among our team.” Reenis stated about the rewarding and enlightening firsthand look she got of how the team-oriented work environment functioned at Scell.
Photo caption: Women’s Island Network (Win) group during one of its membership drive this year. Photo contributed.
Prior to her appointment, Gittens was a faculty member of the Business & Hospitality Division of USM. In that capacity she collaborated with her colleagues, Erwin Wolthuis, Division Head of Business & Hospitality, and hospitality instructor Jan van Beek to secure USM receiving the their first and only accredited BTEC program. Over the last year, Gittens developed Scell into a training mecca on St. Maarten and her efforts over-flowed to neighboring islands. Initiating and delivering customized trainings to the biggest companies on the island, in addition to keynote speeches on customer service excellence and creating successful community-driven organizations like, Women’s Island Network (Win) and Youth Professional Network (YPN) under the auspices of Scell as a way to increase female and male enrollment at USM.
One of Scell’s instructors, Hensley Plantijn, Secretary General of the Ministry of General Affairs says “I am sure Gittens’ knowledge, dynamism, and enthusiasm will be missed. I can only confirm that working with her has been a very exciting and learning experience. For that I will be forever grateful. Furthermore, a person with her qualities will keep on developing and exploring the next possibilities. I understand that Scell is left with a very solid foundation she created. Considering everything said, I am positive she will succeed in her next assignments. I want to wish her strength and perseverance, like she has always shown, and hope that we will get another opportunity to work together.”
A noteworthy mention of one of Gittens’ many achievements is that this October Scell received two nominations from the St. Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association (SHTA) for Outstanding Community Service Achievement with one nomination going to Gittens and the other to her Scell staff and students. “I do not want to give the community the impression that I am leaving my students behind.” explained Gittens. “They are achieving great things, now moving on and pursuing their dreams.”
Scell has provided services to large numbers of persons, businesses and organizations in the short period of its existence. Scell offered a diverse range of professional services, including personal development workshops and trainings. Local bank, Windward Islands Bank (WIB) Ltd, was one of the first organizations to work with Scell in offering financial management training to its staff. “Our experience with Dr. Gittens is nothing short of being very professional.” stated WIB’s managing director Derek Downes in an invited comment. “The collaboration between WIB and USM-Scell was very satisfying, both in content and delivery.”
So why the sudden departure? “At this time in my career I would like to help more organizations, tourism offices, professionals, educational institutions and entrepreneurs throughout the Caribbean and extend my expert consultancy to government agencies,” Gittens states. “That equates to me embarking on new projects that will support the enhancement of hospitality, travel and tourism in St. Maarten specifically and throughout the Caribbean on a much larger global scale.”
Gittens further goes on to clarify that the establishment of her own local firm with a team of experts and her many related fields of expertise, helped facilitate the decision to embark on a more entrepreneurial path in her life. “I will continue to utilize my thirty plus years of expertise in training, curriculum and professional development, international business, hospitality, travel & tourism consultancy, customer service best practices to help build and expand my newly formed firm called TPI.”
TPI stands for Training Professionals International and it will open its doors in January of 2017. The firm will be a vital contributor to increasing economic sustainability for the Caribbean at large with a primary commitment to St. Maarten and surrounding islands, states Gittens. The firm will bridge the gap between the Caribbean and the world educating others on the immeasurable significance of the Caribbean islands as it relates to the evolutionary, ever-changing Hospitality, Tourism & Travel Industry. “TPI’s commitment is to provide the Caribbean and its people, professionals, governments, Chambers of Commerce, tourist offices, organizations and businesses with a proactive approach to preparing for the next millennium in hospitality, travel and tourism advancement.”
TPI will also provide hospitality & service based organizations with globally recognized American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (AHLEI) certifications. All certifications will be facilitated by CHE Master Trainer, Gittens, who is one of 13 Certified Hospitality Educators in the world and who will soon receive her certification as a Certified Hospitality Trainer(CHT) in early December. All firm partners will hold a CHE or CHT AHLEI instructor certification.
In addition, TPI will provide training for diverse organizations in the Caribbean that range from customer service 21st century best practices, business writing techniques, public speaking and supervisory & leadership courses. TPI’s original “1 Day Stars Seminars,” will provide professionals with over 50 plus training topics like email etiquette, getting your life on track and starting and managing your own business in January. Gittens will continue to deliver keynote speeches throughout the Caribbean on customer service excellence, the importance of training and professional development for effective work teams and conduct operational reviews for organizations and government entities to observe their practices and provide expert recommendations by TPI consultants, on how to increase profit margins, maximize service excellence by educating, empowering employees and putting customers’ first.
Training Professionals International firm headquarters will be based in St. Maarten and serve the entire Caribbean, establishing offices on neighboring islands mid-year 2017. For more information on TPI, call 554 24 37 or email FIRMTPI@gmail.com. The website can be found online at: http://firmpi.com.
Photo above caption: Departing Director of USM/Scell, Dr. Natasha Gittens. Photo contributed