Six years after launching the first Minds Inspired scholarship, Glenda McTaggart now manages a programme that includes 19 scholars, work experience for 40 summer students and a busy calendar of events based on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.
“The intention for Minds Inspired was always more than a cheque,” says McTaggart, education progammes manager at Dart Enterprises. “It’s about enrichment, providing children with opportunities they would not otherwise have.”
Acknowledging it can be confusing that Minds Inspired applied to both academic scholarships and educational events, McTaggart says the scholarship programme is getting a new identity. “We are rebranding as Dart Scholar. It’s a natural progression as the community aspect of Minds Inspired continues to grow, and it connects our scholarships more closely with Dart as a company.”
The opportunity for work experience within the Dart group of companies is one of the attractions of the Dart Scholar programme, which awards two four-year high school scholarships and at least one four-year university scholarship to young Caymanians each year. While there is no requirement for students to work at Dart after graduating, McTaggart understands the value of building relationships early.
“The impetus behind Minds Inspired is to build connections, to get to know the students from a young age and for them to get to know us,” she says. McTaggart is adept at developing these relationships and has genuine affection for students, past and present. When describing the potentially life-changing impact of becoming a Dart Scholar, her passion is evident.
“It can transform their lives, especially at the high school level. I’ll never forget the expression on the face of one of our scholars the first time she saw the STEAM lab at CIS, where they were using a 3D printer for a design project.” “STEAM” stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
Dart Scholars benefit from McTaggart’s ability to build relationships in more ways than one: she acts as both mentor and advocate. Having worked in the local financial services industry for 13 years, she has a broad network of professional contacts and can be very persuasive.
“One of our scholars is studying Dance and Body Science,” she says. “I wanted to find her work experience that would be relevant to her studies, so I called up one of my contacts who runs a physio clinic. The reference letter she received as a result of that internship was the primary reason she was selected, over 40 other applicants, for the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Health.”
McTaggart first experienced the power of a corporate partnership in education in her native Canada where she provided learning support for five schools. The district enrichment programme was sponsored by IBM.
“In those days, technology was just emerging and equipment was less readily available,” she says. “IBM’s contribution was more than just financial. They gave us laptops, which were cutting-edge at the time, and invited the students in to see what happens at IBM. They brought in speakers, and provided career mentoring.”
Enrichment is central to both the Dart Scholar and Minds Inspired programmes. When not liaising with students or managing the waves of administration associated with applications, McTaggart enjoys developing and planning academies and events that are open to students across the Cayman Islands.
“Our research shows how much children enjoy intra-school competitions,” she says. “At the annual Math Challenges, we mix up the teams across schools, public and private. For the kids who love maths, but may not excel at other subjects, it’s their chance to shine.”
While the Math Challenge was a Dart initiative, the SeaPerch Challenge came about thanks to McTaggart’s connections and Dart’s reputation in the community for championing STEM. The original organisers from the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association approached her to ask if Dart would partner with the law firm Maples and incorporate the underwater robotics programme in Minds Inspired.
“It’s a good partnership,” she explains. “The Camana Bay pool meets SeaPerch’s international criteria and the sponsorship by Maples allows us to send the winning team to the national finals in the United States.”
The Dart Scholar programme celebrates academic excellence, while Minds Inspired aims to encourage a wider appreciation of science and mathematics. With the focus on STEM, derived in part from the Dart family’s background in engineering and manufacturing, McTaggart is continually looking for ideas that expose students to new technology.
“I’d love to introduce a robotics competition,” she says. “One of our scholars excels in this field; it would be wonderful to see him involved and mentoring other young people.”
Having Dart Scholar alumni driving the scholarship programme is McTaggart’s ultimate goal. “They each have different personalities, talents and points of view,” she says. “When I go into schools to talk about Dart Scholarships, I like to bring one of our current scholars with me. It’s motivating to hear them talk about their experience first-hand. I look forward to the day the alumni will be part of the selection process.”
Until then, the selection process is in good hands with McTaggart, who has sat on numerous education committees, during her time at CIBC FirstCaribbean and while volunteering with local organisations such as Junior Achievement, the University College of the Cayman Islands and the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce.
After many years teaching and conducting training in financial institutions, she is a shrewd judge of character. Her advice for applicants, who must go through a robust, blind selection process to become a Dart Scholar, is to focus on their communications skills.
“Academics and extracurricular activities will get you through the door, but what gets the scholarship is the ability to show passion for the subject and to be a role model for the next group of scholars.”
Passion for the subject and good role modelling are attributes that McTaggart has herself in plenty.