Shaneil Brown remembers the day she broke down.
She desperately wanted to continue her education. She dreamed of going to medical school. Nearly finished with her studies at the University College of the Cayman Islands, she had acceptance letters from eight different universities in Canada and the United Kingdom. She had the qualifications. She had the grades.
She didn’t have the money.
For weeks Brown, 21, had been emailing various individuals and organizations in Cayman and beyond. She looked up philanthropists online and sent letters asking for assistance.
“I was sending random emails to anyone I could find,” she said, “people on YouTube, CEOs and businessmen, the prime minister of Jamaica, my MP in Jamaica. I was sending them to everybody.”
She’d had no luck.
“I was crying,” she said. “I was thinking about all I’d been through and I was asking God for help. Sometimes things get overwhelming. But I had a lot of faith something was going to happen.”
The next day it did. She was contacted by Tom Simpson, a former member of the UCCI Board of Governors, who asked to meet with her.
Weeks later, she is preparing to leave Cayman for the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, where she will begin her third-year science studies in January. Simpson and his wife, Beverley, are providing the funding for Brown’s first year of studies there. After that, he’s confident she will qualify for university-based financial aid.
Brown, who earned a 3.75 GPA at UCCI, is the first in what the Simpsons expect will be a long line of UCCI students they plan to help. Mr. Simpson said he and UCCI President and CEO Stacy McAfee were already in discussions about the best way they might help students with financial needs. The couple are no strangers to philanthropy. Prior to becoming a Cayman resident in 2009, Mr. Simpson was on the board of directors of the University of Toronto. He and his wife gave $1 million to that institution for need-based financial aid. Often times, the aid was awarded to women and single mothers from the Caribbean helping them complete entry requirements through to retiring their school debts on graduation.
Mr. Simpson said he has long seen a need in Cayman. Many scholarships available to students here are academic merit-based, whether or not parents or family have the money, and few are available to non-Caymanians. Brown, who is Jamaican, came here three years ago to go to UCCI. Her mother had to return to Jamaica and Brown lives with an aunt. She said her family doesn’t have the means to help her with college.
Even when scholarships are available, Simpson said, they don’t always cover all the necessary expenses a student can face. He said there is a need to “fill the gaps,” and to encourage more assistance for students on the margins who want to continue their educations but might not have the resources to pay college costs.
“That’s the direction that UCCI should be headed to,” Simpson said. “Those that can afford to pay, pay and those that need help receive it. Our goal is to try to encourage others to do it in that way.”
UCCI’s McAfee said she is grateful for people like the Simpsons.
“We have so many students who could benefit from even a little extra help,” McAfee said. “We often learn of students whose finances are strained and we would love to have the funding to assist them. Money issues are a key factor in whether students stay in school or not.
“Tom and Bev have been so supportive of UCCI,” she added, “and we anticipate an enduring partnership that will enhance the university’s ability to provide greater accessibility to all students.”
And for each one of those students, even a little assistance can mean the difference in achieving the goal of a college degree.
For Brown, the aid she is receiving keeps the dream of becoming a doctor alive.
“It’s going to change her life,” Simpson said. Without it, “She’d be going back to Jamaica.”
For her part, Brown said she is ready to take on a new challenge, although she’s a little iffy about the Canadian cold she’ll be walking into. She’s never seen snow before.
“I know it’s going to be tough,” she said of the university courses that face her. “I’m going to be meeting brilliant people from all over the world. There will be a lot of competition.”
But she is focused on her goal and plans to eventually attend medical school at the University of Toronto or New York University. She’s wanted to work in medicine, she said, since she was young.
“I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was in primary school,” she said. “I used to perform mini-surgeries around the house. I used the cotton and peroxide. If my dad got a cut, I would bandage it up.”
And UCCI has played a major role in moving her toward that dream.
“When I got to UCCI, I realized how amazing teachers are,” she said. “Ms. (Antoinette) Gayle was so helpful and so sincere,” she said before rattling off a handful of other names. “They were all so supportive.”
She’ll carry that support as well as that of the Simpsons’ as she heads into a new chapter in her life. The ordeal of searching for financial help has been filled with lessons, she said.
“It’s taught me there are good people out there,” Brown said, “people that have good hearts, like Mr. and Mrs. Simpson.”
Their gift, she said, will spur her on.
“I think I would have worked hard,” she said of her upcoming classes. “But now I have this extra motivation. I want to make the Simpsons proud. I feel this added weight that I must succeed.”
Anyone interested in partnering in UCCI’s scholarship programs should contact President and CEO Stacy McAfee at email@example.com or by calling 345-623-0524.