In a digital world, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — often referred to as STEM — subjects have become increasingly relevant to our daily lives, at work and at home.
For most, an understanding and appreciation of STEM starts in the classroom.
To recognise the pivotal role teachers play in fostering interest in STEM subjects, Dart launched the annual Minds Inspired STEM Teachers Awards. On May 2, in a ceremony held at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, Dart Education Programmes Senior Manager Glenda McTaggart presented Lune Vermeire of Island Montessori with the inaugural STEM Teachers Elementary Award and Von Ryan Abrantes of St Ignatius Catholic School with the STEM Teachers High School Award. Cayman International School teachers Krista Finch and Jeff Szeryk received Merit Awards for their individual contributions to STEM teaching.
McTaggart, who has been responsible for Minds Inspired’s various STEM-focused initiatives since its inception in 2012, addressed those in attendance before presenting the awards.
“Minds Inspired’s mission calls for us to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all,” she said. “One of the ways we strive to accomplish our mission is to raise the status of science education and science teaching as a profession by supporting and advocating for high-quality science education within the Cayman Islands. Our vision for this award is to support growth in STEM with professional development opportunities for teachers and a school grant for STEM resources.”
Awardees receive an all-expenses paid trip overseas to attend a STEM conference of their choice and their schools receive a grant of US$3,000 for STEM resources.
The “Excellence in STEM Teaching Award” programme was launched last May to recognise superior teaching, innovative instructional practice, high educational standards, the creation of productive learning environments and the ability to inspire and motivate students. Nominated by their peers, applicants were evaluated using a blind selection process to ensure impartiality.
In the Elementary School category, recipient Lune Vermeire stood out for her ability to make STEM topics and experiments age-appropriate for young students ranging from two to six years old, linking STEM with art and hands-on activities in creative and challenging ways. Formerly a marine biologist who helped set up The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s Ambassador of the Environment programme, Vermeire likes to use sustainable and recycled materials in the classroom and constantly finds ways to teach children about conservation and the importance of protecting the natural environment.
Von Ryan Abrantes, winner of the High School category, was selected for the impact he has had engaging students in science, especially with physics, where A-level enrolment has increased by more than triple during his four-year tenure. Abrantes has been equally successful in finding ways to expand students’ involvement with STEM outside the classroom. St Ignatius submitted an impressive eight teams to this year’s SeaPerch Underwater Robotics challenge and the STEM Club he set up has become one of the most popular in the school.
In further recognition of exceptional contributions to STEM, two Merit Awards were also presented this year to two teachers at Cayman International School. Enrichment teacher Krista Finch was selected for her leadership role in Destination Imagination — organising tournaments and taking a team to represent the Cayman Islands in the United States competition for the past five years. Triple science and math teacher Jeff Szeryk was recognised for his 21 years of teaching at the high school level and his leadership in making robotics part of the curriculum and a school-wide programme.
These STEM educators play a critical role in preparing Cayman Islands students to become tech-savvy employees, said McTaggart.
“Individual success in the 21st century economy is also increasingly dependent on STEM literacy,” she said. “Simply to function as an informed consumer and citizen in a world of increasingly sophisticated technology requires the ability to use digital devices and STEM skills such as evidence-based reasoning.”
The coming decade is expected to see one of the largest workforce transitions in the history of mankind as millions of jobs are lost to technology and other new jobs are created. Employees with strong tech skills, knowledge of artificial intelligence and robotics literacy will have a significant advantage when applying for jobs in almost any industry.
As one of the Cayman Islands’ largest employers, Dart’s support of STEM is an investment in the future, said McTaggart.
“Cayman’s future prosperity and security depend on an effective and inclusive STEM education ecosystem.”