Education has been a part of her for as long as she can remember; from the early days when she avidly attended school, wanting to know more about the world around her, she has simply always loved learning.
This does much to clarify why Dr Elsa Maria Cummings has been a driving force in Cayman’s tertiary education for more than three decades. It also explains why she was recognized with the Cayman Islands Certificate and Badge of Honour for her services to local education.
Born and raised on the Isle of Pines (Isle of Youth), Cuba, Dr Elsa’s educational career was inspired by her grandmother, Annie Ebanks from North Side, and her mother, Leitha May Ebanks, both of whom placed a high value on formal education.
With their support she attended the American High School on the Isle of Pines, where her enthusiasm earned her a scholarship that allowed her to complete her high school years in the United States. She went on to study at the West Virginia Wesleyan University and later at the West Virginia University where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in Romance languages and her master’s in Spanish and French.
“With my degrees in hand, I landed my first ‘real’ job at the Warner Pacific College in Portland, Oregon where I taught Spanish and French,” Dr Elsa reminisces.
Then in 1966 she married Dr Hugh Cummings. “In transit to Costa Rica for our honeymoon, we passed through Cayman, and I mentioned to Hugh that my grandmother and mother were born here. He promised me a longer visit in the future.”
Some months later they indeed returned, and while talking with Mrs Floris McCoy-McField, a Bodden Towner they had also met at Warner Pacific College, the idea of establishing a junior college on Grand Cayman took root.
“We wanted to fill the local void in tertiary education by providing affordable, quality college-level study for young people,” Dr Elsa explains.
And when the International College of the Cayman Islands (ICCI) opened its doors in 1970, Dr Elsa was on hand to teach Spanish and serve as Chief Examiner for the GED program, but through the years she also played a central role in the college’s administration – first as director of admissions, then dean, followed by the executive vice president’s post. And in 1990, after Dr Hugh’s retirement, she was appointed president of the college.
“The ICCI project became and remained a major focus in my life and I dedicated most of my energies to it,” she says. Even so, Dr Elsa managed to complete her doctorate of philosophy degree from the University of Oregon in 1979 and raise her two children, Ian and April.
Although Dr Elsa retired from ICCI, she remains active in education circles: She is President Emeritus at the college and after nearly two decades of service, she still sits on Cayman’s Education Council and serves on the Tourism Apprenticeship Programme Advisory Council. She is also serving as the chief advisor to ICCI President Dr. David Marshall.
In addition, she retains her membership in the American Council of Education, the American Association for Collegiate Registrars, and is an advising editor for the Negro Educational Review.
Dr Elsa’s message to young people? “Strive to get as much education as you can, and sharpen your skills continuously.
“We live in an era that requires you to hold vast amounts of knowledge – so get out there, become literate and progress beyond that. If you are educated, you can help yourself, and more importantly, you will be an asset to your community,” Dr Elsa affirms.
“And I dare to conclude with a cliché: Knowledge is always empowering – give it a chance and it will take you places.”
Story credit Wosila Rochester ; reedited.
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