Dreaming at the Boot Camp: UCC’s Vibrant Open Day

I wish I could have stayed longer, but this week I did drop by the University College of the Caribbean’s first “Boot Camp” – a noisy, energetic exercise, designed to offer study and career options to high school students.

UCC's Mario Palmer (in non-military gear) consults with a colleague at the social media hub. (My photo)
UCC’s Mario Palmer (in civilian gear) consults with a colleague at the social media hub. (My photo)

No, not a physical boot camp – rather, an inspirational and informative Open Day highlighting UCC’s range of study offerings. The theme was a military one, with UCC staff in camouflage gear. But there were no drills or parades. The students wandered in, in small groups in their uniforms and dangling backpacks; their teachers walked alongside them with a purposeful air. Music thumped and bounced off the buildings, and the morning sun did its usual blazing routine.

Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment Damian Crawford chats with a boot camper. (My photo)
Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment Damian Crawford chats with a boot camper. (My photo)

Coordinator of Graduate Studies Keri-Ann James welcomed me into a cool room, decked out in the institution’s colors, with pots of greenery and soft colored lighting. She introduced me to her boss Dianne Boyd, Director of Graduate Programs. I also met Nadia Mitchell, Director of Corporate Education Programs.  A delicious breakfast (coffee!) was laid out. Very soon two of the morning’s speakers – Junior Tourism Minister Damian Crawford and social worker Sonita Morin Abrahams – came in. We nibbled and chatted a little before they went off to give their talks.

Keri-Ann James studied overseas, but wanted to return to Jamaica to contribute to the island's development.  (My photo)
Keri-Ann James studied overseas, but wanted to return to Jamaica to contribute to the island’s development. (My photo)

Keri-Ann James gave me a quick overview of the graduate programs she is involved with. Two are programs in collaboration with the Canada-based Commonwealth of Learning: The Commonwealth Executive Master of Business Administration and the Commonwealth Executive Master of Public Administration (CEMBA and CEMPA). These are part-time courses suitable for working people, lasting twenty months and offered in Kingston, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios (UCC also has centers in Savanna-la-Mar, May Pen and Mandeville). The UCC also offers its own 18-month MBA course, with interesting electives such as General Management, Disaster Management and Entrepreneurship/Business Development.

All these courses can be fitted into a working person’s day. There are “early bird” classes at 7:00 a.m. and evening classes up to 9:00 p.m. A partnership with Florida International University (FIU) offers two Masters programs: in Curriculum and Instruction and in Engineering Management. And the good news is scholarships and flexible payment plans are available.

A dynamic UCC trio: (l - r) Dianne Boyd, Keri-Ann James and Nadia Mitchell. (My photo)
A dynamic UCC trio: (l – r) Dianne Boyd, Keri-Ann James and Nadia Mitchell. (My photo)

UCC also offers a host of professional short courses, in everything from Events Planning and Implementation to Occupational Health and Safety – all over six months. They will also customize training packages. When I asked about student numbers, I was told the classes are small (not larger than 25) – a big plus, I think.

I skipped off to listen to Sonita Abrahams’ presentation on the theme: “Let Your Soul Be Your Guide.” Abrahams is the CEO of RISE Life Management Services, a non-governmental organization based in downtown Kingston, founded in 1989 as Addiction Alert.  Over the years, the organization revised its goals and renamed itself RISE (Reaching Individuals through Skills and Education). It continues to work with at-risk youth. With a Masters in Psychology, Abrahams (a Hubert Humphrey Fellow) went on to do a Masters in Health Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. She is amazingly bright and generous in spirit. She also founded a yoga studio several years ago and teaches there.

Sonita Morin Abrahams: "Do what you love… Don't let anyone tell you anything different." (My photo)
Sonita Morin Abrahams: “Do what you love… Don’t let anyone tell you anything different.” (My photo)

The spiritual, holistic approach was rather the basis for her talk with the boys, really. She had a room full of young men, all in the familiar blue shirts of Jamaica College. They all seemed too big and tall for their desks, and kept shifting uncomfortably and glancing at each other. Teenage boys are very self-conscious.

Abrahams started by asking them about their ambitions and dreams. A few of the boys responded: They wanted to be a professional footballer, an accountant, an engineer, an economist. The response was lukewarm, but she reminded them that most people their age don’t know what they want to do or “be” – and that’s fine. It doesn’t matter.

The boys mulling things over. (My photo)
The boys mulling things over. (My photo)

What matters is…“Do what you love,” Abrahams urged them. “Satisfaction and happiness in your life is worth so much more than money.” Then one boy said he wanted to be a “boss” and go around telling people what to do. No, that is not leadership, she reminded them. Leadership is about listening to others. Management skills are very important, and one life lesson she learned was that of the discipline of saving money. Put a little aside. And she advised them not to take a break between school and college/university. Stay in the habit of studying; it’s easier that way.

At this point, the boys were starting to slump in their seats. Abrahams told them that, if they continued doing so, they would have a bad back and all sorts of posture problems later in life. The boys did not seem very familiar with the concept of posture, so…

“Sit up tall,” Abrahams told them. “Close your eyes, and imagine yourself five years into the future.” After a bit of fidgeting, the boys complied. “Clear your head of all thoughts,” she instructed, “and drop into your feeling body.”

The boys then had a talk about good diet, nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. Mens sana in corpore sano. As a person who cares for others, Abrahams explained, she also has to care for herself first; otherwise she will be no use to anybody. “Your body is your machine – fuel it well,” she added. “You can buy cheap good food! And sodas are bad!”

There is nothing wrong with dreaming, with using your imagination, said Abrahams. But keep a positive frame of mind. “Your thoughts, and the words you speak, will determine who you are.”

Yes, we were dreaming at the Boot Camp.

Close your eyes, banish your thoughts, feel, imagine… (My photo)
Close your eyes, banish your thoughts, feel, imagine… (My photo)

You can find the University College of the Caribbean Main Campus at 17 Worthington Avenue, Kingston 5. Tel: (876) 665-3000; 665-4002; 665-4006. Website: http://www.ucc.edu.jm Email: direct@ucc.jm.com.  On Facebook and Twitter @uccdirect  

Regional Campuses:

16 East Street, Montego Bay: Tel: 971-9653  Email: mobay@ucc.edu.jm;

 Lot 3 Caledonia Mall, 3 1/2 Caledonia Road, Mandeville:  Tel: 625-5408  Email: mandeville@ucc.edu.jm;

 99 Main Street, Ocho Rios  Tel:  974-4071 Email: kschooler@ucc.edu.jm; 

3 Chapleton Road, May Pen:  Tel: 968-9273  Email: maypen@ucc.edu.jm; 

Shop 5-7, 8 Lewis Street, Savanna-la-Mar: Tel: 965-4761  Email: sav@ucc.edu.jm

RISE Life Management Services is at 57 East Street (Corner Laws & Duke Street),
Kingston Tel: (876) 967-3777; Toll free: 1 888 991-4146  Website: http://www.risejamaica.org – Find out more about their work!

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