The new president of the University College of the Cayman Islands would like to see the school play a more vital role in helping to shape the future of the territory.
Stacy McAfee, who will take charge of the campus on Jan. 2, said that while UCCI has made impressive progress under the guidance of retiring president Roy Bodden, she thinks the college still has untapped potential.
Ms. McAfee, who is coming to UCCI from the University of the Pacific in California, where she served as associate vice president, spent two weeks on campus in December, meeting with faculty, staff and local leaders. She said she is still listening and learning, and expects to be working in that mode for some time. But certain avenues she would like to pursue have already made themselves apparent to her.
She said she envisions the college and its faculty serving as a resource to government agencies and even the private sector when it comes to directing the nation.
“People are seeking expert guidance that will ultimately shape what their nation becomes, and UCCI can and should be the objective research base that should be consulted,” Ms. McAfee said. “It’s an under-realized potential the university has.”
Much of the research the college faculty does, she said, is related to local issues and could provide valuable insight and data to those who are in decision-making roles. And because academics are held to high standards by their peers, the information might be the best on any particular subject, whether it might be the impact of a new cruise ship port, or the implementation of new economic or social programs.
“I like to think of a college as the heart and conscience of a nation,” Ms. McAfee said. “If we were to align what we do to the most important economic sectors and also the societal challenges we face, the university can say we’re moving in concert with our nation to make sure we’re advancing.”
The role she has taken on is significantly different to that of her predecessor. The UCCI Board of Governors determined that it wanted the new president to focus more on external issues, such as fundraising, accreditation and forming ties with other universities and institutions.
Ms. McAfee said that job description is more in line with what presidents at most American universities are expected to do. The vice president role at UCCI has also changed to incorporate the role of provost, whose duty it is to oversee the academics of the school.
The new president said there is potential for finding funding sources, not only on the island but internationally.
“Outside the university, there’s a desire to build on what’s been done,” she said, mentioning the meetings she has had with local leaders. “I haven’t met a single person, externally, who doesn’t want to have something to do with UCCI. But we have work to be done in terms of making the case for government funding and to build a case with the private sector.”
Beyond Cayman’s shores, she hopes to tap into the generosity of UCCI alumni. The school has never had an alumni organization and is now in the process of forming one. She also thinks there are organizations that would be willing to help support the small school’s mission.
“We’re fairly unique here and I’d be surprised if we can’t capture the interest of some foundation,” she said.
The most immediate thing she’s hoping for is more governmental support. President Bodden lamented the fact that he had not been able to generate more support from legislators to build a new campus. Some of the current buildings date to the 1970s when UCCI was established, and are in poor condition.
“We have to have an infrastructure that can accommodate what we need to do and that fills us with pride,” she said. Repairing and/or remodeling the existing structures, she added, “would be hard, even if we had all the money in the world.”
She will also be following President Bodden’s lead in seeking more financial support for students. Currently, government scholarships provide UCCI students only with money for tuition, fees and books. Ms. McAfee said she would like to see funds for room and board provided on a need basis. Many students, she said, have to drop out for periods of time to work, because they cannot afford the cost of attending the school. That directly impacts completion rates.
Some of the school’s 1,200 students do not even apply for aid when they might need it, she said.
“Financial resources is one of the most important things that people need to access to complete tertiary education,” Ms. McAfee said. “Only 40 percent of students at UCCI access scholarships. There’s probably 1,200 more that would come here if they had the resources.”
The president also said she plans to work more closely with local industry on cooperative ventures that would provide students with the education and training they need to enter specific jobs in the workplace. That same type of coordination is needed in the transfer partnerships UCCI has with other colleges. Students, she said, need to take courses that will prepare them to complete a degree in two years when they transfer. The bottom line, she said, is getting students to that diploma.
“We have to get up every day with a burning desire to be better than we were yesterday at serving our students,” she said.
She thinks UCCI is on a good footing for taking the next step in its development.
“I want UCCI to be lauded in the same way that Health City is for being innovative,” she said. “We have to dream bigger.”