Renita Barnes can’t keep her feet still.
She has to dance.
And even though she graduated with an associate degree from the University College of the Cayman Islands in 2013, she remains tied to her alma mater through its dance programme and as a member of the UCCI Alumni Network.
"I’m a big cheerleader for UCCI,” Barnes said.
As part of the first cohort of students who chose to complete their final year of high school at UCCI, Barnes said she gained all the tools she needed to go on to a successful academic and professional career. She encourages others to take advantage of the education at their doorsteps here in the Cayman Islands.
And, with registration for spring classes currently underway – classes start Jan. 10 -- it’s a good time for both continuing, new and potential students to heed the campaign of Study Local, Go Far and build their futures right here at home.
Higher education is not only a gateway to better employment options, but it can also foster life lessons. For Barnes, it meant learning about responsibility.
“In high school, if you didn’t go to class, teachers would still find a way for you to make the grades,” she said.
She soon found out that wasn’t the case at UCCI.
"It meant learning responsibility and accountability,” she said. “It was a great steppingstone and a good eye-opener.”
But, she said, she never felt like she was going it alone. Faculty was always willing to help.
“They did everything they could to support you,” she said. “I realized UCCI was a family.”
In addition to her academic pursuits, Barnes said she got involved in other aspects of campus life. She joined the dance troupe and was a member of the UCCI Pandemix steelpan band.
By the time she transferred to Florida Atlantic University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in communication and media studies, she was ready, even though it meant moving off-island and confronting a much larger campus environment. Her experience at UCCI gave her the confidence to be involved in campus life while attending university in Florida, she said. While there, she served as a student ambassador and escorted donors to various campus and sporting events. Barnes was also president of one of the women empowerment community service organisations on the campus.
“It was a big change,” Barnes said. “It was a much bigger school. But UCCI definitely prepared me for it. I can say I was well ahead in my class, which made my transition comfortable. I was completely prepared for anything the school threw at me. “
After completing her bachelor’s, she went on to earn a master’s degree in gender and development studies from the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill.
She took a position as a protocol assistant in the Cabinet Office of the Cayman Islands Government.
“You interact on a national level with diplomats,” she said. “Communication is really important, understanding how people relate to one another.”
As a cultural representative, she said, “I learned a lot about Cayman’s history.”
She was surprised by some of the things she didn’t know. Having walked in and out of UCCI’s main hall countless times, she said, “I did not know who Sir Vassel Johnson was until I was in this job. I was kicking myself.”
Gaining such knowledge, she said, has deepened her appreciation for UCCI.
This spring, Barnes moved to a new role as the corporate service and media officer in the Governor’s Office. She spends a lot of time helping the office with tasks involving the overseas territory directorate in the UK as well as administration, advice on speeches, and providing a Caymanian perspective.
In other words, she understands the importance of appreciating attributes of Cayman, including her college education at UCCI, which provided the foundation for her academic and professional journey. She encourages others to take advantage of that resource.
“If they can get that foundation at UCCI, they’ll be set,” Barnes said. “It was the perfect place for me.”
Getting started on that educational journey is just a step away if students take advantage of the programmes at UCCI and register before spring classes begin, Jan. 10. Financial aid and payment plans are available.
Students who register by Dec. 1 will also be entered for a chance to win an iPad or a laptop computer.
Those interested in joining UCCI’s Alumni Network can find out more at www.ucci.edu.ky/alumni