Saturday, May 14, 2016

UVI 2016 Graduates Excel Despite Turbulent Circumstances

Patrice Harris gives the 2016 Commencement Address.
UVI Graduates Embrace the Future … 

The University of the Virgin Islands Class of 2016 took their first steps into the future at Commencement Ceremonies, which were held on May 12, in the Sports and Fitness Center on St. Thomas and May 13, on the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix. See commencement stories for some of UVI graduates below:

Crystal Peter celebrates after receiving her
diploma on the Sheen Campus
A Winding Road Leads to Crystal Clarity

(Crystal Peter, Albert A. Sheen Campus; Elementary Education)

Crystal Peter’s journey through college was long, circuitous and untraditional, but it produced a young woman who is ready – and undeniably able – to achieve any formidable goal she sets for herself. Not only does Peter already have her sights set on an eventual run for Congress, she also strives daily to make her world a greater place. Ultimately, her biggest goal is to be an aid within her community. “Everybody has a chance,” she said. “Each and every one of us has the opportunity to do great things.”

Her thoughts were not always as such. Peter graduated from the St. Croix Educational Complex in 2007, where she described herself as a “mediocre student.” She nevertheless did well during her first semester at UVI. However, her grades plummeted during her second semester due to her inability to focus, and the overwhelming demands of her job. She became discouraged. Unsure about whether or not the academic life was for her, she moved to Massachusetts where she became a certified medical assistant.

Armed with a more lucrative way to earn a living, Peter decided to give college another try. She moved to Georgia where she planned to work as a medical assistant while she finished her Bachelor’s Degree. This time she had a deeper appreciation for the value of a college education, and was determined to be more disciplined about her studies. “I made a vow to myself while I was in Georgia that I would get A’s and B’s, and I stuck to it.”

In Georgia, however, Peter’s problems turned practical. The only available jobs were at least an hour away from where she was living, and she didn’t have transportation. So she moved back to St. Croix where she immediately found a job as a medical assistant, and resumed her studies as an Elementary Education Major on the Albert A. Sheen Campus. She worked for Dr. Guy Garman, an ear, nose and throat specialist. Sadly, he died tragically in 2015 while attempting to set a diving record.

“I was devastated,” said Peter. “Dr. Garman was one of the most extraordinary people I have ever known. I worked forty hours a week in his office and loved every minute of it. He recognized my potential and was so supportive that he would tell me, ‘Crystal, I don’t want to see you working in this office three or four years from now.’ He was so determined for me to finish school by attending UVI full-time that he adjusted his schedule to accommodate mine.”

Determined to honor the extraordinary faith that was placed in her not only by Dr. Garman, but also by numerous family members, friends and classmates, Peter threw herself at the task of completing her bachelor of arts degree, while at the same time embracing a heightened level of community involvement. She is the current president of her sorority Zeta Phi Beta, she teaches children at church, and actively participates in numerous community outreach projects through both her sorority and the church.

Upon graduating, she will head to Guatemala where she will work for the Peace Corps as a youth in development specialist. She will teach children as she has been trained to do, and when the opportunity presents itself to become political, she will run for congress on a platform of mental health and education. Crystal Peter is the first of her mother’s children to get a college degree, and her family is very proud of her. “I actually think she’s a little more excited about it than I am,” exclaimed Peter. “But I’m excited too. My path was sort of all over the place, but I’m grateful for each and every one of the experiences that made me who I am today.” “I thank God for the journey I was placed on. I look forward to all future endeavors.”

Felicia Emmanuel sings at the Commencement Ceremony on the Sheen Campus
A Graduate Who Has Found Her Voice

(Felicia Emmanuel, Albert A. Sheen Campus; Communications)

When Felicia Emmanuel enrolled at the University of the Virgin Islands in 2011, her goal was to go school and then come home – period. She had always been quiet and shy, so the world of campus clubs and organizations held no appeal for her. But her self-imposed seclusion was no match for the spirit of community involvement that dominated the Albert A. Sheen Campus. Before long, Emmanuel found herself swept up in a torrent of activities which – to her surprise – included the UVI Voices of Inspiration Community Choir.

“I never thought that I would sing in public,” said Emmanuel. “But I was drawn to the idea of singing for UVI. It can be intimidating, but I know that when I’m representing my school and my community, I have to do my best.”

Realizing that community involvement had the potential to enrich her college experience, Emmanuel expanded her presence on campus through a variety of activities. She served as the public relations officer for the Student Government Association; became co-chair of the Community Service Society under the Golden Key International Honor Society; and worked for the UVI Voice as a reporter and copyeditor. Despite her busy schedule, she maintained high academic standards which led to several semesters on the Dean’s List, and to her appointment as a Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) Scholar.

Emmanuel was overjoyed to attend the TMCF Leadership Institute last November, which she described as a pivotal moment. “I was so excited to be there when Dr. Hall was honored. He’s so ambitious for us students, and for the University; it was incredible to see what great leadership is about, and to see that leadership be recognized outside of the territory.”

Sadly, Emmanuel’s father passed away shortly after she returned from Washington D.C., turning the aftermath of an amazing experience into a bittersweet moment. “I’d been praying that my dad would be able to attend my graduation,” she said. “He influenced my life in so many ways. He was a musician, a guitarist. I got my drive and meticulousness about music from him. We were able to perform together once on St. Thomas in 2014. I will never forget that.”

Emmanuel chose to major in communication because it seemed like the best way for her to use her talents in writing, drawing and music. She is currently working part-time as a producer’s assistant for WTJX, which she enjoys. She will start to look for a full-time job in her field after she graduates. She is grateful to have been surrounded by many supportive people throughout her college experience, and is especially thankful to God who she feels is responsible for redirecting her life and giving her a second chance.

Daricia Wilkinson
Embracing the Human Side of Technology, and Herself

(Daricia Wilkinson, St. Thomas Campus; Information Systems and Technology)

In many ways, Daricia Wilkinson’s journey through the University of the Virgin Islands reads like the quintessential collegiate success story. She arrived from Nevis knowing precisely what she wanted to study – Information Systems and Technology – and she not only achieved but surpassed the majority of her academic goals. What she did not anticipate was the degree to which those aspects of her education that she expected to be purely peripheral would end up shaping her future.

“Most of my electives were from the computer science department, and also in the school of business,” said Wilkinson, who described her compulsion to branch out from technology as one of her greatest challenges, but also as a source of inspiration. “When I started to merge my new interests in the way people think with my original interests in information systems, I discovered that I could solve human problems and technical problems at the same time. That’s when I realized that I wanted to become an entrepreneur.”

Wilkinson’s interest in exploring how people use technology, and how technology can be used help people to make better decisions prompted her to become an Innovation Fellow. That led to two opportunities to visit to the spiritual homeland of human-centered technology and entrepreneurship – Silicon Valley. In 2014 she was invited to speak at the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Innovation Summit, which took place at Google Headquarters. There, she got the opportunity to participate in a hackathon that was hosted by Facebook. She returned to San Jose in 2016 to speak at the University Innovation Fellows Program Annual Meet-Up, which focused on training students to develop a broader awareness of innovation opportunities on their campuses through curriculum change and community outreach.

Wilkinson is especially proud of the work she has done through the University of the Virgin Islands Innovation Design and Entrepreneurship Association (UVIDEA) club. Together with her student colleagues and faculty advisors, she has contributed to the launch of annual hackathons, the opening of the Innovation Center, and the acquisition of a 3D printer on both UVI campuses. She is currently participating in a program that uses the 3D printer to build affordable prosthetic limbs for people in the community. She is also developing a mobile phone app that will use analytics to reduce alcohol intake and curb drunk driving.

After graduation, Wilkinson will attend graduate school at Clemson University in South Carolina where she will start a fully funded Ph.D. program in Human Centered Computing. She is excited about the many research opportunities that await her, and is looking forward to using parallel careers in academics and entrepreneurship to impact people’s lives by making technology more accessible.

Other Interesting Graduate Stories, St. Croix

Lisa Lucien
Lisa Lucien was a freshman at the University of Tampa when she discovered that she was pregnant. “It was definitely a surprise,” she said. But instead of relinquishing her goal of obtaining a college degree, she transferred to UVI, moved back to St. Croix and got not one, but two jobs. With support from her mother and family, Lucien hardly missed a beat. At 23, she will graduate with the first class of Hospitality and Tourism majors that has gone through the full program at UVI.

“I am totally overwhelmed,” she said over the phone while driving to campus from her full-time job as a customs broker. “I was lucky that most of my classes were at night so I could work during the day and on weekends. But it was still really hard. There were a lot of tears and many sleepless nights.”

Lucien said that her daughter was her main source of motivation. “Every day when I would come home from work or school she would ask me: ‘Did you go to school today, Mommy? Did you go to work?’ I would always say yes, and then she would say: ‘I’m proud of you Mommy.’ That’s what kept me going. I want to give my daughter a great start in life.”

Another challenge for Lucien was deciding on a major, but after she discovered her passion in Hospitality and Tourism, she never looked back. “I love to plan events, work with people, and move around while I’m working,” she said.

Lucien served as the president of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, vice president of the UVI class of 2016, and the treasurer of the Hospitality and Tourism Club. Soon she will begin to look for a job in her field, but in the meantime she is looking forward to catching her breath while she savors her accomplishment and spends a bit more time with her daughter.

When Denis Lynch started his college education at UVI’s Albert A. Sheen Campus in 2006, he did not think that he would be a member of the Class of 2016. But the scenic route suited him; at age 27 he will soon graduate with an Associates in Arts Degree in Process Technology, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration, and plans to attend graduate school.

Lynch graduated from St. Joseph Catholic High School on St. Croix at the age of 16. His original plan had been to study engineering, but he soon realized that opportunities for engineers on St. Croix were scarce, and he knew that he did not want to leave home. Not sure where his education was headed, he scaled back on his coursework and went to work for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA.) The financial independence was attractive. So in 2010 he took an even more lucrative job with Hovensa. Despite his enjoyment of a comfortable lifestyle, his mother – a graduate student herself – urged him to return to school. So when Hovensa closed in 2012, he made the difficult decision to turn down other job offers and resume his studies full-time.

“It feels good to no longer have my mom’s resounding voice in my head, telling me that I should finish my degree,” said Lynch, whose 10-year journey awakened in him an appreciation for the intellectual stimulation that chasing money had not provided. “I have a good job now at the VI Water and Power Authority’s propane plant, but I’m planning to get my Master’s Degree in Business. My dad and I are big horse racing enthusiasts; I’m thinking about trying to develop that into a profitable business.”

Lynch ultimately hopes to follow in his mother’s footsteps with a Ph.D. as well, and to find ways of giving back to his community by working with children. “I didn’t always realize how lucky I was to have two parents who really care about me,” he said. “Not everybody has that, and kids are the future.”

Other Interesting Graduate Stories on St. Thomas

Patrice Harris
Patrice Harris will be the student speaker at this year’s commencement ceremony on the St. Thomas Campus, but she is not nervous. As a communications major whose dream job is to be a television news anchor, public speaking comes almost as naturally to her as walking, and she does it with the confidence of an elite athlete who knows she’s at the top of her game.

Originally from St. Kitts, Harris was one of the first students from St. Kitts and Nevis to receive a scholarship from UVI. She was excited to explore the world beyond the island of her birth, but the transition proved difficult. Intense homesickness brought on a bout of digestive complications that landed her in the hospital and took her out of commission for more than a month. Determined not to fall behind, she completed that semester with a 3.7 grade point average and went on to attend the Thurgood Marshall Leadership Institute. That, too, was difficult; Harris grappled with being a small fish in a big pond for the first time in her life. But instead of feeling defeated, she threw herself into the work at hand and was subsequently chosen to be a student ambassador.

UVI made it possible for Harris to attend the Washington Center during the summer where she had an internship as a congressional news correspondent. There she was in her element, especially while covering the opening of the Cuban Embassy in Washington D.C. But at the height of what she described as her “grand moment” she received word that her father had had a stroke. “I really loved my dad,” she said. “I wanted to go home, but he encouraged me to continue. I finished the program and got an A in the class.”

Toward the end of her final semester at UVI, while still in the throes of coursework and making tough decisions about her future, Harris received the call she had long dreaded: Her father had passed away. “So this has become a very bittersweet moment for me, and I’m not always sure how to handle it,” she said. “I still have all this work to do. It’s very difficult.”

Nevertheless, Harris continues to look forward to speaking at this year’s commencement, and feels proud of being named the 2016 Best Student Employee of the Year for her work at UVI’s Radio Station, and Best Communications Student. She was offered a job at the Hershey Corporation in Sales and Marketing, but has instead decided to pursue a career in communications and journalism. She is currently working with TMCF representatives toward securing an internship in her chosen field.

Yohance Henley poses with President David Hall.
Yohance Henley wanted to be a baseball player, so when his mother suggested to him, over and over and over, that he attend college instead, he felt irritated. He became rebellious. He had already gone to school for 12 years, he said, and since he had not received a baseball scholarship, he was done. But his mother gave him an ultimatum: if he didn’t continue his education at UVI, he would no longer be welcome to live in her house. The summer after he graduated from Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, Henley’s mother enrolled him in UVI’s Summer Bridge Program, which focuses on a student’s transition from high school to college during a five-week residential and academic program. She explained that it was simply unacceptable for him to do nothing with his life.

‘I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “She was trying to send me to school in the middle of the summer. But I went just to get her off my case, and that program changed my life. The faculty was so supportive. By the end of the summer, I was excited to start my first semester as a freshman at UVI.”

Yohance Henley and his 
mom, Kathleen Pascal
Henley became a resident hall assistant in one of the challenging areas on campus, which unearthed his gift for leadership. He has since gone on to become the 2016 Student Government Association president, a trained folktale storyteller, Virgin Islands Legislature Youth Advisory Council vice chairman, an esteemed role model and mentor for legions of his fellow students, a part of Brothers with a Cause, and one of the primary voices of the student body.

Henley is excited to remain in the Virgin Islands after he graduates, where he plans to get a job and coach baseball while he explores a few different career avenues. His interests currently include politics, education and motivational writing/speaking.

Friday, April 22, 2016

UVI Presents Playwrights in Paradise New Play Festival

“The Playwrights in Paradise New Play Festival,” a month-long celebration of the arts featuring new and unproduced works is being celebrated at UVI. The festival began on March 22, with several 12 to 15 minute plays.  The Festival will continue at 6 p.m. on Friday, April 22, and at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 23, at Seven.Minus.Seven Alternative Arts, located at the Lindberg Bay Warehouses, behind Boynes Gas Station.

Original, newly-created plays will be presented by playwrights Jai Kenyatta Anderson, Katherine Callwood, Dr. Patricia Harkins-Pierre, Julisa Marcel, Charles Martin, Sembon Sam, Lydia Simms, Kneema Willett and Christopher Williams.

The final event of the festival is at 1p.m. on Sunday, April 24. "Calling All Civil Rights Leaders" will be led by Julisa Marcel.

Actors for all productions include Eboné Adams, Jai Kenyatta Anderson, Kevon Browne, Katherine Callwood, Moneé Edwards, Dr. Patricia Harkins Pierre, Rachelle JnBaptiste, Kyla Joseph, Dr. Doug Larche, Charles Martin, Jr., Julisa Marcel, Branford Parker, Dr. Alex Randall, Asiah Rodgers, Sambon Sem, Lydia Simms, Christopher Williams and others. 

For additional information, please contact Dr. Doug Larche at (340) 693-1341 or e-mail

Friday, April 15, 2016

UVI Celebrates 54th Charter Day with UVI Pride

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. speaks at UVI's Charter Day Ceremony.Patrice Harris, Thurgood Marshall Scholar and UVI communication student; Miss UVI 2015-2016 Katherine Callwood and Zoe Walker, Thurgood Marshall Scholar and UVI communication student also spoke at that the celebration.

The University of the Virgin Islands celebrated the 54th anniversary of its charter on Friday morning, March 18, with an inspiring program that showcased the talent, leadership and charisma that has made UVI one of the most successful Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in America. Themes of vision, excellence, and intrepidity dominated the event. Keynote speaker Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), emphasized all of the above as he discussed the historic and future relevancy of HBCUs. 

The event was teleconferenced between the St. Thomas Campus and the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix, so that the whole University could celebrate together. It was a morning to remember. From the warm welcome of a jubilant President David Hall to the fearless remarks of student speakers, to the electrifying music of the Steve Turre Jazz Quintet, to the candid, emboldening and often hilarious words of Taylor, UVI’s greatest asset – its community members – was on flamboyant display.
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.
Charter Day is a way to not only remember, but to actually touch and embrace the spirit of the UVI’s founders by continuing to set bold and ambitious goals,” said Hall, who set the tone by recognizing the hard work, dedication and vision of those who brought the University into existence 54 years ago. By way of an illustration, he spoke of the five new business degree programs that will launch in the fall of 2017, emerging Ph.D. programs, newly established Innovation Center and of course the nascent medical school. “Charter Day is a reminder of our founders’ high aim,” he said.

Katherine Callwood, Miss UVI 2015-2016, echoed Dr. Hall’s sentiment by describing UVI as an elastic institution that has evolved from college to university to HBCU. “There is no doubt in my mind that our institution will continue to change with the times,” she said, adding that one of UVI’s greatest strengths lies in its flexibility; in its capacity to adapt to the constant resurfacing of the territory, America and the world.

Following a humorous creative word selection by a humanities student and an
Steve Turre Jazz Quintet
earnest vocal selection by Ka’Reema Moses, President Hall introduced Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. as an attorney who left a successful legal practice to “… answer a call. By heading the Thurgood Marshall College Fund,” Hall said, “Taylor has become an unrelenting advocate for students at public HBCUs.”

Taylor began his remarks by praising the many new developments and innovations that are currently underway at the University of the Virgin Islands, and by congratulating President Hall for being awarded the TMCF leadership award. However, he said, while UVI appears to be expanding in a host of exciting ways, this has not been a trend among mainland HBCUs. Most public HBCUs are struggling just to survive, and some have been forced to close their doors. “I was reminded of the Dickens novel, ‘The Tale of Two Cities’,” Taylor said. “You all are experiencing the best of times down here in the Virgin Islands, while up in the states a lot of HBCUs are facing the worst of times. There used to be 117 HBCUs in America; there are now 105.”

Taylor attributed these difficulties to underfunding, unfavorable education policy, and competition. But the biggest problem, he said, is a lack of support from the very people for whom these institutions matter the most. “The problem isn’t that white folks aren’t supporting HBCUs,” he exclaimed. “The problem is that black folks aren’t supporting HBCUs.”

Taylor went on to report that only 10 percent of black college and university
Patrice Harris 
students nationwide are choosing to attend HBCUs, and that as a result we may not be able to take for granted that public HBCUs will always exist, will always be able to ensure high quality education at affordable prices for people of all ethnicities. “We must celebrate the past, but think seriously about the future,” said Taylor. “If we don’t take pride in our own institutions, nobody else will.”

Thurgood Marshall College Fund student ambassador, Patrice Harris, spoke with precocious gravity and insight about her humbling experiences at the TMCF Leadership Institute. “There I was forced to let go of my sense of entitlement and embrace the hard work that would enable me to develop my own brand, maintain high standards, and negotiate an imperfect world without letting it wear me down,” she said. “I gained a tremendous amount of confidence.”

Harris’ St. Croix counterpart, TMCF student ambassador Zoe T.V. Walker, spoke
Zoe Walker
with comparable passion and grace about the enormity of the impact that both UVI and TMCF have had on her life. “Having a great support system on and off campus afforded me the opportunity to achieve excellence,” she said. Both Harris and Walker were effusive in their expressions of gratitude to TMCF for “… always believing in its students,” said Harris, “constantly looking for ways to increase opportunities for students of HBCUs, and for teaching us to take pride in our HBCUs.”

During a break between remarks, the ground floor conference room of the ACC erupted into a squall of jazz by the Steve Turre Quintet, which included percussionist Dion Parson who is currently an artist in residence at UVI. The dynamic performance, which featured virtuosic solos on trombone, trumpet, keyboards, drums and stand-up bass, climaxed with Turre’s signature conch shell performance in which he juggled shells of varying sizes, playing them with the same dexterity that he would apply to any traditional horn.

President Hall concluded the 54th Charter Day program by declaring it the “Best-Ever” Charter Day celebration in the history of UVI Charter Day celebrations. And while he acknowledged with his characteristically understated humor that the comment was mildly outrageous, it was clear that not a person in the room would have disagreed. As the conclusion of the Charter Day program gave way to the commencement of UVI’s Pride festivities, it was evident that members of the UVI community had gained a deeper and more nuanced appreciation for what it means to show, and genuinely feel, pride in its HBCU.

Friday, April 1, 2016

UVI Celebrates 54th Charter with 15th Annual Queen Mary Walk/Run

Annual Event Launches University Pride Celebration …
A few dozen walkers and runners, including past winners, repeat participants, students, faculty, staff and UVI alumni got up before sunrise on Friday, March 18, a work-day, to celebrate the founding of the University of the Virgin Islands and the 15th year of the UVI/Queen Mary 5K Walk Run.

The annual event, which is hosted by UVI and organized by the Virgin Islands Pace Runners, was held as part of the University’s first official event of its 13 day University Pride celebration.

Juan Robles decided early in the week to make it special and ran an unofficial race record of 15 minutes, 33 seconds on the point-to-point course that is slightly uphill.  So did Bridget Klein who broke her personal record of 20 minutes, 14 seconds, was the first overall female finisher, was the third overall winner with 19 minutes, 37 seconds, and now has the unofficial female race record.

Billy Bohlke, a former race winner, took second place with a time of 18 minutes, 55 seconds; Randall Nielsen was the third place male in 20 minutes, 30 seconds; Mike Klein, St. Croix Scenic Mile Champion was fourth in 21 minutes, 26 seconds and UVI student Alfredo Guerro was fifth in 21 minutes, 51 seconds.

Bridget Klein, track and cross-country coach at Good Hope/Country Day School, broke her 2014 unofficial race record with a first place finish for females and third overall with a time of 19 minutes, 37 seconds. Rachel Conhoff, of St. Croix Track Club/Good Hope Country Day, was second in 21 minutes, 51 seconds; Mikaela Smith, St. Croix Track Club/St. Croix Educational Complex High School, was third in 22 minutes, 14 seconds; Amy Roberts was fourth in 22 minutes, 15 seconds and Elizabeth LaBelle UVI student was fifth in 22 minutes, 55 seconds.

Michelle Elliot, UVI business services supervisor, welcomed the finishers, a mix of local and visiting runners and walkers who for some reason, likes the challenge of the start on a work-day, in the dark. 

The walk/run was the idea of co-founder Jenifer Jackson, former chancellor of UVI on St. Croix. 

“The reason I picked the time and day was to make a special effort to get the public’s attention,” said Jackson, who was recognized at the annual award breakfast held following the event.  Wallace Williams, co-founder, said the Virgin Islands Pace Runners got its start at UVI back in 1978 with the UVI Cooperative Extension 4-H Program on the University’s St. Croix Campus in the exact spot for the finish line and awards presentation area for the UVI/Queen Mary 5K.

He said, “those who ran then, still do”, including Dr. Alan Lewit, UVI professor of Computer Science, who wrote the first computer program for results for V.I. Pace. Dr. Lewit was present on Friday. He thanked the University and the runners for maintaining the long relationship with the V.I. Pace Runners.

Special Category Awards include:
·         UVI Male Student: 1st Alfredo Guerro
·         UVI Female Student: 1st  Marcia Tuckett
·         UVI Alum: Male 1st Dexter Hypolyte
·         UVI Alum Female: 1st Hedda Finch-Simpson
·         UVI Male Staff: 1st Anthony Laurent;
·         UVI Female Staff: 1st Elizabeth Labelle
·         UVI Male Faculty: 1st Bernard Castillo;
·         UVI Female Faculty: 1st Valerie Combie
·         Community Member: 1st Randall Nielsen;
·         Community Member Female: 1st Rachel Conhoff

Click here for results of the 5K race.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

UVI Grads Moving Onward and Upward

Dr. Charnise Goodings '09
As part of the Emerging Caribbean Scientist Research Seminar Series, Dr. Charnise Goodings, University alumna, returned home to share her knowledge and experiences with a room full of young graduate school hopefuls. She gave insights on the grad school application process and the things that one would need to successfully complete grad school. She also talked about the research she conducted while at Vanderbilt University and the work she is currently doing at St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

Both of Dr. Goodings’ research projects are based on the study of cancer biology, specifically leukemia. This disease is a result of the deregulation of hematopoiesis, which is the process in which hematopoietic stem cells self-renew and differentiate into blood cell lineages. The research is aimed at understanding the role of certain genes in the development of normal and malignant lymphoid cells.

Dr. Gooding gave an honest account of the grad school process, from application through graduation. When asked if grad school is hard, she replied, “Yes, it is going to be hard. You will cry. You will want to quit. You have to try though; go in there with an open mind and just try.” Throughout her presentation, Dr. Goodings emphasized on being a good student and going the extra mile to get the job done.

“Your science speaks for you,” she says. Dr. Goodings touched on responsibility, work ethic, and independence being key traits necessary for success; and it was her experiences at UVI that taught her that. Dr. Goodings says while at UVI she learned good work ethic. “You have to be responsible for yourself, your research, and your own work,” she says. During an interview, Dr. Gooding gave an account of the time her research advisor became unavailable to her due to medical reasons. She explained that even though her main source of aid was gone, she knew what was required her – the work had to be done despite the circumstances.

Dr. Goodings, who is steadily forging her pathway to greatness, graduated from UVI in 2009 with a degree in biology. She headed to Vanderbilt University that same year under their Initiative to Maximize Student Diversity program. She received her Ph.D. in cancer biology in 2015. Currently, she is a Postdoctoral fellow at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She is the daughter of UVI alumna, Denise Turnbull-Goodings. Her brother, Chaz Goodings, is a senior at UVI and recipient of the Afternoon on the Green Volunteer Scholarship. It is safe to say that getting an education at UVI is certainly a Goodings’ tradition.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Fantasy by the Sea: St. Thomas Winner of UVI’s 13D Entrepreneurship Competition Turns Dream into Reality

Patsy Bruenlin in the Reception Area of Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden, Home to more than 1,000 Orchids
For years, Patsy Breunlin dreamed of starting her own business.  So when she learned in 2013 that she did not have to be a matriculated student at the University of the Virgin Islands in order to take a course in entrepreneurship, she dashed over to the University and registered.  The course would enable her to participate in the University’s 13D Entrepreneurship Competition, a collaborative program between UVI and 13D Research (USVI) LLC in which students compete to win start-up capital for their emerging businesses.
Gifts and Refreshments
Patsy had a big project in the works: A tropical botanical garden that was ready to be transformed into a local eco-attraction.  But first she needed financing and some business expertise.  Her instincts were spot-on; the course, taught by Dr. Tim Faley, provided the coaching and preparation she would need to successfully compete in the 13D program, and her second-place finish yielded $20,000 in start-up capital.  After 20 years of clearing and weeding, trimming and pruning, digging and planting, the Florida-born architect and general contractor was finally in a position to realize her dream of opening Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden to the public.   
“The garden was my passion even before I owned this property, and creating it has been a labor of love,” said Patsy, gesturing toward a gently sloping path which leads visitors into a naturally air-conditioned, and perfumed, cascade of more than a thousand orchids and hundreds of bromeliads, heliconias, gingers, palms, aroids and succulents.  “I brought my plant collection to St. Thomas when I moved here in 1987, and spent the next six years looking for the perfect place to put them in the ground.  It wasn’t until a friend told me that the garden ‘was just too good not to share it with others’ that I decided to create a traditional botanical garden for St. Thomas, since it didn’t have one already.”  
Steps Leading into the Garden

Patsy’s discovery that botanical gardens were allowed in her zoning area near the top of St. Peter Mountain on the north side of St. Thomas, overlooking Magen’s Bay, galvanized her to obtain a business license in 2000.  This led to the construction of the garden’s labyrinth of paths, steps and planting areas.  She also collected and installed many new plants, which she looked forward to sharing with visitors from near and far as she transitioned away from architecture and contracting toward what she had already started to think of as her “retirement career” in the garden.  The start-up capital that she secured through the partnership between UVI and 13D provided the funds she needed to complete the parking area and buildings.  Phantasea opened to the public on February 7, 2015. 
“The garden is a one-of-a-kind attraction on St. Thomas,” said Dr. Glenn A. Metts, Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship.  “Unlike other attractions which can be built over a year or so, a botanical garden takes many years, even decades to mature.  Patsy’s love of gardening existed long before she turned it into a business.”
Ms. Bruenlin found the course and the competition’s requirments to be both rigorous and helpful.  Under the supervision of Dr. Faley, she constructed a detailed business plan that prompted her to research approximately how many tourist-filled safari’s drive by her property on an average day (68) and the popularity of gardening (fifth most popular hobby in America.)  She wrote an effective “elevator pitch” and learned how to create persuasive Power Point presentations.  She developed a marketing strategy, which led to a solid web presence complete with website, social media, and a fruitful account on TripAdvisor.  “The UVI program was tough,” said Patsy. “They teach you how to understand your business in terms of how economically viable it has the potential to be.  Several people dropped out along the way.  It’s not an academic exercise; it really is about getting successful businesses started in the Territory.”
Patsy Behind the Front Desk
One year after she opened Phantasea, Patsy has a guest book filled with glowing remarks about the magnificent beauty and transcendent serenity of the garden.  She has 51 reviews with an overall rating of excellent on TripAdvisor.  She is, according to Dr. Metts, a “patient, hard-working and extremely determined entrepreneur.”  Nevertheless, she is frustrated by how difficult it has been to break into the excursions marketplace on St. Thomas, much of which is controlled by third-party organizers.  “I’ve enjoyed a lot of support from this community,” she said.  “I thought that it would be easier to get in with cruise ship tourism.  I also didn’t realize just how much work it was going to be to maintain the garden while at the same time managing guests and keeping up with all of the marketing.” 
Despite her concerns, the Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden appears to be holding its own with 168 visitors during the first three weeks of January, most of which were referred by TripAdvisor, and a steadily growing reputation locally and online.  Dr. Metts agrees that the garden is a tough business, but remains optimistic about its potential to provide a good living for the owner, while at the same time enriching the St. Thomas community.  “Once she can get enough attention through the media, I think Phantasea will be a great attraction for St. Thomas visitors,” said Dr. Metts.  “Patsy is not a major corporation so she has to rely on local media more and she deserves all of our help in making Phantasea a success.  What we need to realize about Phantasea is that the cost of actually developing the garden over more than a decade was tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention the cost of the property.  A tropical garden owned by an individual requires a lot of money over a long period of time with no payback.  That is the real value of Phantasea; nobody can just install a botanical garden.  It reflects decades of work just to be ready for the first visitor.”

If you have a great idea for a business start-up, consider entrepreneurship classes at UVI.  You too will have the chance to win $10,000, $20,000 or $30,000 in start-up capital. Entrepreneurship classes are available to all students regardless of their major, as well as to members of the broader Virgin Islands Community.
Purple Orchid in Bloom

Friday, February 19, 2016

UVI Innovation Center to Spark Creativity and Entrepreneurship

UVIDEA club members present UVI's new 3D Printer

This spring, the University of the Virgin Islands made history with its first open house to showcase state of the art Innovation Centers.  Outfitted with computers, work tables, white boards and a 3-D printer – from which actual models or product prototypes can be digitally rendered out of biodegradable plastic – the newly established centers are located on the St. Thomas Campus and on the Albert A. Sheen campus on St. Croix.
UVI President David Hall addresses students, faculty and partners
at the official opening of UVI's innovation center

UVI President David Hall referred to the centers as “maker spaces” in which students will be encouraged to gather, brainstorm, and channel their classroom knowledge into creative endeavors with entrepreneurial potential.

“So many of the technological innovations we now take for granted were developed by real people in garages and basements and back rooms throughout the territory and the country,” says Dr. Hall.  “When you’re using something like a mobile phone app, it’s easy to forget that somebody actually thought about this.  Somebody put their energy into solving all of the problems that needed to be solved in order to make this application available and convenient to use.  We want that same energy to exist here at UVI. Our hope is that we will soon outgrow this innovation space and have to expand.”

“The Innovation Center is going to be a place where students can let their creative juices flow and know that others are there for the same reason,” says UVI Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Camille McKayle.  “It was gratifying to see the turnout at the opening and the sparkle in the eyes of those in attendance,” she said at the open house.  “Innovation, Design, and Entrepreneurship Association (UVIDEA) is a growing student organization, and I am sure they will consider this their new home.”

 “Investing in the progression of innovative ideas from our students will only return positive results for the university and the community as a whole,” says Daricia Wilkinson, UVIDEA club member.  She feels confident that the center will appeal to a growing number of young people as the semester unfolds. “The launch of the Innovation Center signifies the start of a new era in which Virgin Islanders will no longer be just the consumers of technological and innovative products, but also the creators.”
Leon Hughes (left) and Tim Faley (right) admire 3D
printer objects

Dr. Tim Faley, distinguished professor of Entrepreneurship and Special Assistant to the President, saw no reason why UVI should not join Stanford, MIT, the University of Michigan and other institutions that have already established thriving innovation centers. “The next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs are going to need both knowledge and know-how,” says Faley. “Knowledge can be transferred in a course setting, but developing know-how often requires hands-on experience. That experience can be acquired in experiential learning programs.”

The first such program emerged in the form of a $5 million grant from Kiril Sokoloff, the founder of the Research and Technology Park company, 13D Research (USVI) LLC.  The grant established a robust, cross-campus entrepreneurship and innovation initiative at UVI.  Under this initiative, the 13D Entrepreneurship Competition was created, in which any student who is enrolled in the university – though not necessarily full-time – can compete to win $10,000, $20,000 or $30,000 in start-up capital for his or her business proposal.  

Objects rendered from 3D printer
Another business collaboration that is fostering innovation initiatives at UVI involves Leon Hughes, founder of the St. Croix-based software technology company Nearix.  He believes that Hackathons – weekend-long events in which students work around the clock to find technology-based solutions to real-world problems, mostly in the form of website development or mobile phone apps – will help to promote a culture of creative problem solving among young people in the territory.  Hughes began to sponsor hackathons on both campuses in 2015.  Cash prizes totaling $900 have been awarded for the best hack, the most innovative hack, the most impactful hack and the most sustainability focused hack.

A look inside the new Innovation Center on the
 Sheen Campus . 
The UVI Hackathons were such dynamic events that President Hall and Dr. Faley undertook to create a physical space in which the brainstorming and collaboration could go on indefinitely.  “Our center is going to function as a working laboratory in which students from different academic backgrounds can pool their talent and work toward common goals, just like they do in real companies,” says Dr. Faley. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Buccaneer Empowerment Seminar Helps Students Prepare for Future

Mary Myers (left) and Verna Rivers (Right) were two of many speakers at the first ever Buccaneer Empowerment Seminar (BES) on the St. Thomas Campus

January 28, marked the first ever Buccaneer Empowerment Seminar (BES), a forum aimed to inform students of the dynamics of professional development.

The three-hour seminar took place on the University’s  – St. Thomas Campus. Thanks to the combined efforts of the Golden Key Honor Society, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Student Government Association (SGA), who were able to have experienced professionals from a number of different fields speak to UVI students.

Each presenter offered tips and advice from their own experiences. Topics ranged from how to dress for an interview to getting your first credit card. The seminar also included, an hour-long résumé workshop – a time where students could talk one-on-one with a career service counselor on ways in which they can restructure, or enhance the quality of their résumé.

Opening Ceremony

Patrice Harris talks about how to make
 a good first impression and how it can
 help you land a job.
The afternoon kicked off with Patrice Harris, the news director at WUVI – UVI’s student radio station. Harris said in the past, she has had to persuade bosses on why she should get a position, whether it is a full-time job or a summer internship. 

Harris then had a student (voluntarily) give her a 20-second speech introducing themselves and stating why they would be the best fit for their dream job.  After working with the student for about two minutes, the student developed a great 20-second speech. Harris said that making an introduction to an interviewer comes down to two key components: having confidence and being persuasive.

Harris also expressed how important it is to make a good first impression. She emphasized that in a tough job market you need to make sure you nail your interview and capitalize on every opportunity you get

Career Services and Résumé Fundamentals

Mary Myers, a programs specialist for UVI’s Provost’s office, and Verna Rivers, the dean of students at UVI, hosted the second speech of the day which was broken down into two parts. Part one focused on acing the interview and dressing the part, while the second half focused on building your résumé.

In the first half of the presentation, both mentioned that everyone should have a professional email and not have anything inappropriate or tasteless on social networking profiles. On the contrary, they mentioned how “Thank you” notes are a gesture that can increase your chances of landing a job.

Myers and Rivers also talked about what to wear for an interview. They both recounted experiences where interviewees have dressed inappropriately or they have features that draw the interviewers away from the substance of the conversation.

“You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression,” Rivers said, as she recounted interviewing someone with bad drawn-on eyebrows.

The second half of the presentation focused on re-tooling and improving one’s résumé. Rivers and Myers shared tips such as not putting your high school education information on your résumé if you are in college. Moreover, they said to make sure you are showing future employers the skills you gained, and not just summarizing the duties of your previous positions.

“I got a lot of great tips from both of them [Myers and Rivers]. I realized that there are definitely some things I need to change on my résumé,” said Mackenzie Lewis, an exchange student at UVI. 

Following the hour-long presentation was a résumé workshop, which allowed students to sit down with faculty members from career services to ask questions or fix problems on their résumés.

Students work one-on-one with professionals from career services on ways to fix their résumés.

Becoming an Entrepreneur

The third presenter of the day was Albert Richardson, who is currently a financial manager at Scotia Bank, but is a former entrepreneur. He spoke about finding startup money, risk management, insurance options and even dealing with landlords, and how well all those things correlate with owning a business.

“The things I am telling you today are things I learned on the street and through my experiences. These are not things you will learn in school,” Richardson said.

He reflected fondly on his days as a business owner, and he recommended it to anyone who is willing to work long hours and make sacrifices.

“At the end of the day when it comes to owning a business, you cannot doubt yourself. You have to believe in yourself and what you are doing, if you want to be successful,” Richardson said.

After the presentation, The UVI Innovation Design and Entrepreneurship Association (UVIDEA) and the University Innovation Freshmen (UIF) sponsored a 30-minute event on generating and improving quick business pitches and ideas.

Creating a Financial Plan

Shayla Solomon, a projects coordinator at
Banco Popular, 
discusses steps students should take
now to plan for life after graduation.
Shayla Solomon, a Projects Coordinator at Banco Popular, rounded out the day with a presentation on financial planning. Solomon touched on how to open a checking account or a savings account, while also discussing terms such as APR, interests rates, and IRA’s and what they mean and how they affect personal finances. 

Solomon offered a number of tips on budgeting and how to build credit early in your life. She also assured students that credit cards are not a bad thing – if used properly.

“From this age, I want to make sure you are making smart financial decisions to help you in the future,” Solomon said.


Each presenter at the seminar shared experiences and tips that are sure to stick with students as they prepare for life after university. From strengthening résumés, to developing a financial plan, students were given valuable insight on what it takes to be successful in the outside world. 

The majority of the students at the event were members of the Golden Key Honor Society, the Student Government Association or the National Society of Black Engineers – the three organizations that put this event together. Next year, they are hoping the seminar will attract all students from UVI, so everyone can obtain guidance from professionals.

“I feel like all students would benefit from opportunities like this,” said Mary Myers from the UVI Provost’s Office. “There were some great speakers at this event.”
Students receive a certificate after staying for the three-hour-long seminar.

At the end of the conference, all those who attended the seminar were awarded certificates. One student in attendance was Lisa Marie-Hodge, a junior at UVI and a member of the UVI SGA.

“BES was a great event. I learned so much from all the speakers. I’m thankful that these three organizations were able to come together and create such an awesome conference. It proves that UVI cares about their students even after they graduate,” Hodge said.