UCCI swears in first female president

Anthony Ritch, chairman of the UCCI Board of Governors, drapes the school’s medallion over the head of new president Stacy McAfee at her inauguration ceremony Tuesday evening. Vice President/Provost Livingston Smith, left, and Kwabena Asamoah, dean of administration, look on. - Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

Leaning on local history, Stacy McAfee, the new president and CEO of the University College of the Cayman Islands, invoked nautical themes during her official inauguration Tuesday evening.

“When Daniel Jervis, of Cayman Brac, built the catboat, it was because he was dissatisfied [with existing vessels],” Ms. McAfee said. “Similarly, UCCI will build a new model of continuing education. Today we are embarking on a sea change. We are building new boats and charting new courses.”

During an address to a crowd of several hundred people in UCCI’s Sir Vassel Johnson Hall, Ms. McAfee laid out a vision for the school that was clearly ambitious. Framed by a new strategic plan that was due to be approved by UCCI’s board of governors on Wednesday, the president shared her ideas for the enhancement of existing programs, the addition of new ones and expanding the role of the university college in the broader Cayman community.

This was the first inauguration ceremony in the school’s 44 years. Ms. McAfee is the first woman to head the campus. She took over Jan. 1, following the retirement of Roy Bodden, who was recognized during the evening’s speeches for providing a foundation upon which the new plans could be implemented.

“I feel proud to have played some part,” Mr. Bodden said, following the ceremony. “I wish them well in their new journey.”

Anthony Ritch, chairman of the board of governors, said he was looking forward to “an exciting new chapter in the history of UCCI.”

The new strategic plan changes the role of the president from campus centered to more community oriented. The president is expected to devote more time to finding additional revenue sources for the school and to building better connections with businesses and organizations on the islands. Mr. Ritch said Ms. McAfee was chosen with that in mind.

“We knew we had to find an exceptional leader,” Mr. Ritch said. “It is really important that we cultivate strong relationships with our external stakeholders. She’s off to a strong start in this role.”

Glenda McTaggart, education program manager for Dart Enterprises, said she and other members of the business community have been impressed with Ms. McAfee’s early outreach.

“She’s getting into the community and meeting with all the businesses, understanding what the needs are,” Ms. McTaggart said. “We’re very excited with all the plans that she has.”

Ms. McAfee holds a doctorate in educational leadership and management. She first taught, then moved into administrative roles, working at several colleges and universities in the United States. Most recently, she was an associate vice president at the University of the Pacific, near Sacramento, California.

Pamela Eibeck, University of the Pacific president, was one of Tuesday evening’s speakers.

“This is an exciting time as UCCI charts a course forward,” Ms. Eibeck told the crowd. “I cannot imagine a better or more appropriate person to move your university forward than Dr. Stacy McAfee.”

She lauded Ms. McAfee’s ability to create a clear vision and recruit others to follow her.

“Everybody who was anybody knew Stacy, loved Stacy and wanted to be a part of where the University of the Pacific was going,” Ms. Eibeck said. “She describes what the future will look like and everyone wants to be a part of what she’s creating.”

Mark Scotland, deputy chairman of the UCCI board of governors, presents the university’s charter document to new president Stacy McAfee, as board chairman Anthony Ritch speaks at the podium Tuesday night. – Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

After being sworn into office by Mr. Ritch, Ms. McAfee told the crowd what she planned to create at UCCI.

“As our nation has changed, so too has the role of tertiary education,” she said. “Now, more than ever, the UCCI is an important engine for prosperity.”

She then asked the audience to imagine a future UCCI with some of the following features:

  • An expanded Brac campus.
  • More online offerings.
  • “Cutting-edge” classrooms.
  • A new coding academy.
  • The addition of a technical and vocational education and training center.
  • Increased ties to business and industry.
  • Establishment of a alumni foundation for scholarships.
  • “Reinvention” of the civil service college.

“It is a bright and compelling vision that illuminates the possibilities for the Cayman Islands,” she said, and a chance for UCCI to be “seen as a cornerstone for prosperity.” She also recognized the challenges.

“Building world-class student-centered education is expensive,” she said. “But the cost is a bargain.”

It’s important for Cayman to recognize “that tertiary education is the priority of this nation,” she said.

The ceremony began with a performance by the UCCI Pandemix Band, which played the somber, threatening tones of “Phantom of the Opera” during a processional of student and faculty representatives, administrators and public officials.

Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly gave the shortest speech of the night.

“I have been asked to provide greetings,” the minister said. “And so I go. Good evening.”

Ms. O’Connor-Connolly later said her unusually brief remarks were not meant as a snub and that she is behind Ms. McAfee’s efforts. “I like to dream big,” she said. “I’m very supportive.”

For her part, Ms. McAfee emphasized that the dream outlined in the strategic vision was largely distilled from the ideas of faculty and staff on the campus. She said she has so far been impressed at the passion she sees in those that work for UCCI.

“My biggest hope tonight,” she said, “is that I can encapsulate that passion, so [community] people can feel they’re a part of that vision.”