LANA ASHBY RECENTLY received accolades that took her by surprise, not only because of her age but because she is a member of an ethnic minority in her workplace, Durham University, one of the top five law schools in the United Kingdom.
At 28 years old, Lana is an assistant professor (education) in private law and has already been judged Law Teacher Of The Year at Durham: “There are 60 members of staff in our department and out of them I am is the youngest in age, the most junior member of staff, and to top it off, it was a student-led award,” Ashby said of the award she received in March.
“Being of African descent and 99 per cent of my students are not of African descent, to see that my efforts were rewarded was really humbling and reminded me that as Caribbean people wherever we go we should make sure our light is shining as people are looking on,” Ashby said.
In April, she was awarded Durham University’s Excellence In Learning And Teaching Award, a prestigious award which is open to all members of academic staff at the university and recognises excellence in advancing the university’s education agenda.
“I was at a loss for words; I was really humbled but very thankful that the university recognised the work that I was doing in the classroom. I was ensuring that students leave with a solid education and I was improving the marks across the year levels,” Lana said, noting that full professors usually won that award and the only other person in her department who ever won the award was the current dean of her department.
“To be classed with him is outstanding,” she said.
Reflecting on her awards, the law professor said people will see Barbados as a serious place where scholars and thinkers are developed.
“I am glad I went to the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill, and out of a home-grown institution we can have someone go on and do great things at a Top 5 university in Britain where it is so hard to get a job in the first place,” Lana said.
Lana is the daughter of postmaster general of the Barbados Postal Service, Margaret Ashby, who is very proud of her accomplishments but mostly proud that she never left her roots in her upbringing in the church and continues to attend the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
Lana’s educational journey started at Queen’s College where teachers encouraged her to get into the field of law (her parents kept telling her that she was very argumentative).
Though she initially wanted to study medicine, she went with law as suggested and did so well from the first day she received an award for law at the school’s speech day.
Disappointment came when she applied to UWI and she was forced to do a double major in economics and accounting.
“Obviously that was very difficult since I had not done anything with mathematics since fifth form. I was determined to work hard and at the end of my first year I had a 4.07 GPA and then transferred to the law faculty,” she said.
When Lana gained her Bachelor of Law at UWI with first class honours in 2011, she went on to the University of Cambridge where she did a Master of Laws in corporate and commercial law with specialties in corporate insolvency, corporate finance law, corporate governance and intellectual property law in 2012. She was granted a Cambridge Commonwealth Scholarship and also received a National Development Scholarship (Barbados) for studies in an area critical to growth in Barbados.
That meant months of hard work for Ashby who said, “Cambridge is really intense. I did four specialties in nine months, not even a year.
“My mother was very instrumental in getting me to read quite a bit, borrowing books from the library, doing summaries, working during the summer vacation which I did not like, but now appreciate. That reading allowed me to blossom and to adapt,” Lana said.
“I kept in the back of my mind that the Government and the people of Barbados invested and believed in me, so I did them proud. Even though that added pressure, it still motivated me to get that done,” she said.
Though Lana initially wanted to practise law she got into teaching when Professor Velma Newton identified a student who had Asperger’s syndrome and nominated her to teach him.
It was then that she was able to teach theory in a way that he would understand and through that she and others realised her passion for teaching.
Most of her work is geared at helping Barbados and the Caribbean, especially in intellectual property law, and she is currently doing some core research which is soon to be published. She recently completed a book on contract law and presented a copy to Barbados.
The budding lawyer also serves as the regional consultant for Impact Justice Project and out of that she has written a manual for the region, advising governments on how to make company law more competitive.
“That is the process we are going through now; I recently met with attorneys general, chief justices and heads of corporate affairs across the region and the private sector and presented the report. So that is what I am currently doing to give back,” she said.
While noting that she would like to do more for Barbados, Lana said the politics in some working environments made it difficult to give back. “People talk about brain drain . . . . It is not a case that the opportunities are not there, sometimes they are there but it is a case of the people who they are given to because of politics prevents national development and them giving back as they would want,” she said.
However, Ashby ensures that most of her research, if not all, is on Caribbean law and developing that area. She also wants to do more writing in contract and insolvency law, which are her core research areas.
What’s next for Lana?
“Only God knows. . . . . Eventually I want to become a full professor, but God has a funny way of diverting my path. Any time I feel like I am getting comfortable something happens to send me in another direction, so I am open to what God does”.
Added to that, Lana is also working to maintain her family-life balance. She is married with no children, recently bought a home and is into gardening.
Lana wants others to see that she is quite normal and that what she has achieved others can too.
“People see your successes but do not see the work that is goes into it and the sacrifice. Sometimes I sit back and think, ‘Did I really achieve that?’” Lana said.
“I have colleagues across the Caribbean who have gone on to Cambridge because I encouraged them to. Do not say, ‘Oh, there will be bright people to compete against’. You are bright too,” she said.
She also wants people who have achieved success to be encouraging to those who want to embark on something similar.
“Don’t try to make the task seem so difficult. Some people achieve something and tell you, ‘Oh, it was actually really hard, I don’t know if you could do it,’ and make you doubt yourself. But I tell my students, if I can do it, you can do it; it’s just a matter of you saying I want this. If you want to achieve it, it is not outside your reach’,” she said.
At present, Lana is writing a book and preparing for school, which resumes
“I am just thankful to be a Barbadian. We do not appreciate what we have until we get on an international stage and realise how well our education has prepared us for international challenges.
“It really does set you above others,” the scholar said. (LK)