UCCI adds new networking centre

The partnership with Cisco Systems provides access to tech-related courses

UCCI President Stacy McAfee, left, shakes hands with Cisco Vice President Shari Slate after receiving a Cisco grant of $60,000. - Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

A remodelled classroom at the University College of the Cayman Islands is opening a new door on the digital world, officials said.

UCCI president Stacy McAfee cut the ribbon Tuesday on the NetAcad, boasting new paint and an array of computers as the latest addition in a network of more than 12,000 such learning spaces around the world using material provided by Cisco Systems, a leading California technology company.

Cisco vice president Shari Slate was on hand for the ceremony, presenting McAfee with a $60,000 grant from the company. The two have been working on establishing the centre since their first meeting in April.

“It’s hard to walk in here and not smile,” Slate said, after stepping into the classroom, which also had several banners promoting NetAcad. “‘My future is bright,’ is how people will think.”

Slate has roots in the Brac; her aunt, Hyacinth Todd, still lives there and last year hosted a 30-member family reunion. She thinks the new centre will create an avenue for Cayman students to participate in Cisco’s worldwide education network.

The company offers more than 30 different technology courses to 2.1 million students annually through the network, which was established 22 years ago. UCCI will initially focus on the programme for cybersecurity.

“I think we’ll look back on this a year from now, three years, 10 years, at every increment I think we’ll say, ‘We saw it. Look what we created for Cayman and the Caribbean. Look what we’ve done for the world,’” Slate said.

The project to join Cisco’s network came out of a different kind of networking.

Slate and McAfee had a mutual friend, who decided the two should meet when Slate came to Grand Cayman in April to celebrate Easter with her family. Over dinner, they hit it off.

Slate lives in Sacramento, California, where McAfee also lived before coming to Cayman.

“We realised our children went to the same high school,” Slate said.

“In an hour’s time, I certainly saw her [McAfee’s] vision,” she added. “As Cayman digitises for the future, she wants UCCI to be a part of that.”

One of the most in-demand areas for digital-related jobs, Slate said, is in cybersecurity, where there aren’t enough trained people to fill the need.

“There is a 2 million headcount gap in cybersecurity,” she said. “By 2021, the headcount gap will be 3.5 million. That’s only one pathway. It’s creating the (opportunity) for Cayman to participate in the world economy, even from this tiny island.”

Those trained through the Cisco course could work for companies on island or off, McAfee said. Nearly every industry has a need to protect its data.

“In many of the conferences I’ve attended, it’s the overriding topic,” she said. “Every university is struggling with that. There’s no sustainable business model without cybersecurity.”

Slate said graduates could also start their own companies and work online with entities anywhere in the world.

“Everything, from compliance to operations orchestration, it’s participative in a way that was never possible before,” she said.

“You can participate in solving one of the world’s most challenging problems from right here. I see us as being a nation that’s so tiny but having a huge global impact.”

UCCI computer science professor Selgin Amador said the new partnership with Cisco will not only provide greater access for him and his students — there are 26,000 instructors involved — but it will provide them with internationally recognised certification and material.

“It’s a big deal because we’re getting the support and backup from Cisco,” Amador said. “The curriculum we’re getting is from this giant. You want to give your students the most up-to-date information.”

McAfee said the grant money from Cisco would be used to upgrade the computers and furniture in the classroom. She’s hoping local interest in the programme might spur more donations.

“I think this will capture the interest of industry partners,” she said. “We’re building a workforce that allows us to build a new economy.”