Cayman students will have greater opportunities in STEM fields going forward, said Roy Bodden, speaking at this week’s conference on science, technology, engineering and math at the University College of the Cayman Islands.
Mr. Bodden, the president of UCCI, called the gathering of scientists and educators for the STEM Carib 2017 conference historic. This is the first time in the conference’s five-year history in which UCCI has partnered with another institution. And Mr. Bodden said the new relationship between his school and Harrisburg University in Pennsylvania, will make more resources available to students pursuing STEM majors.
“For this conference and for, I hope, STEM conferences in the future, we will be partnering with Harrisburg University,” Mr. Bodden told the conference audience at the opening reception on Tuesday night, Oct. 10.
Students and educators attending the event have the chance to listen to experts and see demonstrations of new solar technologies, bioengineering, forensics, geospatial applications and other STEM subjects.
High school student Nina Ratcliffe, 16, of Cayman International School, was among about 100 students crowded into UCCI’s gymnasium on Wednesday. She was looking forward to a session that will feature the dissection of a lionfish.
“In looking at what it had to offer, I got interested,” she said. “I really like science. I’m not sure what I want to go into, but probably biology.”
UCCI chemistry instructor Antoinette Gayle said she’s seen a clear impact in her classroom from the conference in past years.
“I get a lot more questions,” she said, referring to students who have attended the event. “They start thinking about things they haven’t thought of before. It gets them interested in different areas.”
Mr. Bodden and other UCCI officials seemed most excited about their new U.S. connection.
Ray Jones, a physics and electrical engineering instructor with 29 years at UCCI, has been on the campus’s STEM committee since its inception. The new partnership with Harrisburg, Mr. Jones said, “allows us to expand in all sorts of areas. We have limited resources. Harrisburg University can take our students from the associate’s program and do the final polishing on their academics and then [the students] come back here and contribute to Cayman society.”
Dr. Bill Hrudey, director of the school’s observatory, has been instrumental in establishing the STEM conference. The retired physician said he stepped back this year, allowing others to carry the conference forward, and is pleased with the direction it is taking.
“This partnership with Harrisburg is great,” he said. “They have resources like we’ll never have.”
In his opening remarks Wednesday morning, Mr. Bodden singled out Dr. Hrudey’s contributions and called him to the stage. “This gentleman, he is the person who deserves the credit for this STEM conference,” Mr. Bodden said. “He is the father of modern STEM at the university college.”
Dr. Hrudey said his efforts to foster better science programs through UCCI comes from the circle of friends he had during his high school years, who were all passionate about astronomy. Many of those friends, he said, went on to become successful in STEM fields.
“I said, ‘When I retire, I’m going to try to recreate that atmosphere,’” he said. Part of that was to help establish the STEM conference in Cayman.
This year’s partnership came from a connection with Howell Management Services, a foreign student recruiting agency in Salt Lake City. Frank Trocki, a partner in the company, had worked with UCCI. When Harrisburg University President Eric Darr asked Mr. Trocki about recruiting more Caribbean students to the Pennsylvania school, Mr. Troki put him in touch with Mr. Bodden. Harrisburg, which is only 12 years old, began as a teaching university, but has established strong science programs in recent years, Mr. Darr said.
“President Bodden had an interest in moving [UCCI] more in the direction of STEM,” Mr. Darr said, so it seemed like a good fit.
So did getting involved in the conference.
“I hope it becomes the preeminent STEM conference in the Caribbean,” Mr. Darr said.
He and the six faculty members at the conference also see the potential for ongoing collaboration in other areas for the two schools.
Charles Palmer, who teaches interactive media at Harrisburg, said he and several other instructors attended last year’s STEM conference. He’s been impressed by what he’s seen.
“Last year, we had a lot of good conversations with students,” Mr. Palmer said. One UCCI student, Shannon Williams, is now a student at Harrisburg and “he’s been phenomenal,” he added.
In addition to such students, Dr. Hrudey said Cayman offers an attractive environment for visiting professors. “I think we’re going to see a lot of them in the spring,” he said, “when it’s cold up in Pennsylvania.”
UCCI’s STEM Carib Conference runs through the week. A free family fun afternoon is scheduled from 1:30-4:30 p.m. Friday, featuring kid-oriented displays and demonstrations.