There is a path and a purpose for everyone. Sometimes it takes one door to close, and another to swing wide open for us to realize our purpose in life. For Dr. Hansel Fletcher, the door of medical school was shut due to the high cost of tuition, while the graduate route gave way for him to become one of the most successful and recognized scientist both nationally and internationally in the area of oral microbiology. Now he has the leverage to open doors for many others, including teachers in the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines in Jamaica.
Dr. Hansel Fletcher grew up with his parents Mavis and Conrad Fletcher in Westmoreland, Jamaica and was the 3rd of 5 children. He attended Petersfield Primary school and Savanna-La-Mar High school. He later went to Northern Caribbean University, a Seventh-day Adventist institution in Jamaica to pursue an associate degree. Then returned to teach science at his high school.
By October 1980, the door opened for Dr. Fletcher to pursue his Bachelor of Science and immediately after, he went on to complete his Master of Science degree, both in the general biology program at Walla Walla University. The biggest fear Fletcher encountered at this time was that he would not be able to pay his tuition. However, with his parent’s assistance, a number of scholarships as well as his teaching assistant position, he was able to sustain himself. Fletcher asserts, “I saw that as a blessing. I did not have a student loan when I completed school. It was all paid in full”.
Fletcher demonstrated discipline and focus throughout his studies. His dissertation advisor at Temple University, School of Medicine Dr. Lolita Daneo-Moore “would never get to the lab before me”, he reminisced “even when she tried”. After 4 ½ years, he successfully completed the PhD program, just 6 months short of his personal goal. “Completing the dissertation was a big accomplishment” Dr. Fletcher remembers. “I was so driven to make something of myself that I was willing to make the sacrifices along the way, including putting off dating” maintains Fletcher.
Fletcher also attributes his success to his faith in God. “I don’t see how I could have achieved these blessings on my own” he says. When Fletcher talks about blessings, he means that he is considered one of the top tiered professors in his field. He also means the countless grants all worth more than $12 million that he has attracted to Loma Linda University, a Seventh-day Adventist educational health-sciences institution, in which he is Assistant Dean of Graduate Student Affairs as well as Professor & Vice Chair of the Department of Basic Sciences.
These days, Dr. Fletcher can now open doors for those who aspire to study science. Within the graduate program, he has been committed to increasing diversity. Now, Loma Linda University’s diversity meter is approaching 50%. When he is not at the university, he is engaged in conferences or helping to develop research at other universities around the world; such as in the Caribbean, India, China and South Korea.
In addition, Fletcher is part of the Caribbean Scholars Program (CSP) which sponsors Caribbean students who want to pursue graduate and post graduate degree programs at Loma Linda University but do not have the financial resources to do so.
Dr. Fletcher also serves as a tertiary representative and facilitator for Excellence in Science Experiential Education (ExSEED) Exchange program that is hosted at the university over the summers. The objective of ExSEED is to empower teachers in the STEM disciplines in K-12 schools. Loma Linda University and the Ministry of Education (MoE) in Jamaica have been working in collaboration over the last two years. Next summer, the program will be hosted in Jamaica allowing 100 teachers to benefit from a one week session. “This is part of the vision I have to build capacity in Jamaica and thus contribute to Vision 2030” admits Dr. Fletcher.
Fletcher is also opening many doors for graduate students at his alma mater in Jamaica, Northern Caribbean University. Graduate students have the opportunity to spend one year at his lab to complete their thesis which is funded by Dr. Fletcher’s program.
As Fletcher works hard to create opportunities for others, his wife Pauline Fletcher offers tremendous support. “Now that our youngest has started Oakwood University, in Alabama, my wife can now join me on trips”. He says with a smile. “Both children, Chantel and Conrad Fletcher are premeds at the same university, and are both recipients of national merit scholarships”, Fletcher disclosed proudly.
When Dr. Fletcher is not busy making a difference in the science community, he is busy as an Elder and Media Director at his church, Kansas Avenue Seventh-Day Adventist.
Thus, in hindsight Fletcher is glad that the door for medical school closed, because as a scientist working at a Seventh-day Adventist educational health-sciences institution for the past 20 years, he has the best of all worlds. He now uses his capacity to inspire students to take advantage of opportunities. The lesson therefore is this: Although we can never predict the path life has planned for each of us, like Dr. Fletcher, we owe it to ourselves to work hard in spite of fears or the challenges we face in life. We will never know when the door of opportunity will open for us.
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