Technology futurist Don Marinelli told a Tuesday night audience that digital-world natives are a 'different species' of human beings because they live in a different world than previous generations. His talk was the keynote opening speech for the STEM Carib 2019 conference. - Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

If students didn’t already know, they were told on Wednesday morning that their world is permeated by science and technology and that aspect of their world is only going to expand.

“By 2018, over 70% of jobs required some STEM skills,” Bilita Mattes told a crowd of about 100 students in the University College of the Cayman Islands’ Sir Vassel Johnson Hall, referring to science, technology, engineering and math. “You can’t get away from it.”

Mattes, provost and chief academic officer at Harrisburg University, in Pennsylvania, which has a partnership with UCCI, was the morning keynote speaker for the first full day of STEM Carib 2019. This is the eighth such conference UCCI has hosted. It brings in international and local speakers to talk about STEM topics with the goal to spur interest in STEM-related fields.

“The world is getting smaller,” Mattes said, “and the problems that we’re facing are becoming more complex. We’re all connected. What happens here in the Caymans impacts the rest of the world.”

UCCI president Stacy McAfee told students she wanted them to come away from the conference empowered with a feeling that they could help shape the constantly changing technological landscape as they pursue their eventual careers.

“Technology is transforming everything we do,” McAfee said.

Joshua Moore, 18, a Year 12 student at Cayman Academy, said he was hoping to get a better idea of what careers might be open to him in information technology. He got a taste of that when he attended last year’s conference, he said.

“They focussed on some IT stuff, like programming, like coding, and I found that fascinating,” he said.

His classmate, Richard Barrington, 17, plans to go into marine biology. But Barrington said he was looking for something else while at the conference.

“I’m interested in the e-sports part of it,” said Barrington. “I like gaming.”

A few years ago, that would have been considered a less-than-serious approach to a STEM career. But colleges now offer scholarships to e-sports ‘athletes’.

John Gray High School principal Jon Clark said the STEM conference has helped students in Cayman become aware of such changes.

“This is huge,” he said of the conference. “It’s really energising for [the students]. You’ve got some industry-leading people and the workshops give them a chance to take things to another level.”

The conference runs through Friday; the last day features a free Family Fun Afternoon, with science demonstrations, from 1:30-4:30pm.