Friday, November 6, 2015

Cutting Edge Research on Display at Fall Symposium

UVI Fall 2015 Student Research Symposium winners Semonie Rogers, Danelly Samuel, and Villisha Gregoire pose with their mentor Dr. Alice Stanford.

Ever wonder why antibiotics seldom work to treat colds and infections? Or, why patients in hospitals often develop bacterial infections?

UVI sophomore Nirisha Commodore set out to find answers to these puzzling medical questions last summer during an internship at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. Commodore spent nine weeks at Yale being mentored by faculty in the Department of Internal Medicine.

She is one of 40 students who shared their summer research projects at the 17th Annual Fall Student Research Symposium, held at the Administration and Conference Center (ACC) on the St. Thomas Campus. The event, organized each year by the Emerging Caribbean Scientists (ECS) Program in the College of Science and Mathematics, highlights the research accomplishments of UVI students who have worked at UVI laboratories and at universities abroad.

“I researched antibiotic resistance in a bacteria called Pseudomonas Aeruginosa. It is a common bacteria found in hospitals,” Commodore said. “My research showed the bacteria has an outer membrane that is impenetrable to many of the antibiotics on the market today.”

Dozens of UVI students like Commodore spent their summers researching some of the most complex issues in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (STEM). Their studies have taken them into competitive STEM research areas including coral reef protection, algae growth, cybersecurity, anti-biotic research and more.

During the recent Fall Research Symposium, the ACC conference room was packed with oversized posters detailing countless hours of research and data analysis. Group and individual presentations were summarized into an abstract booklet that was distributed to the community.

Eliakin del Rosario and Gabriel Ramos, Jr., both junior year computer science majors, are among the first UVI students to conduct research under a new cybersecurity grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. They spent the summer at Norfolk State University in Virginia, mentored by computer science professors.

Rosario and Ramos spoke excitedly about their work to protect computer users from hackers.

“Right now there is so much hacking going on. There is no guarantee that your technology is 100 percent secure,” Rosario said. “We created a framework to help networks guard against malicious behavior.”

The experience was a mix of academics and hands-on research, Ramos said.

“We had to be at the lab from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. It was like a class, but also like being on a job. There was a teaching portion and application.” The duo plan to expand on their cybersecurity research to develop a computer operating system language that prevents hacking.

Other presenters conducted their summer research projects much closer to home.

Genique Nicholas, a sophomore biology major on the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix, used the greenhouse on campus to research “Antioxidant Activity in Fresh Herbs.”

“We hypothesized which herbs had the highest antioxidant characteristics among basil, mint, chives, oregano, parsley, sage and thyme,” Nicholas explained. “We put the herbs in vials and a plastic buffer to draw out the liquid and measure antioxidant activity.”

The results surprised Nicholas. “We found that mint had the most antioxidant properties. It was surprising because so many people use parsley in their food, I thought it would have high anti-oxidant activity. But the experiment proved me wrong.” Her conclusion: drinking mint tea is very helpful to you.

On St. Thomas, Francheska Brenes-Rivera and Joshua Hazell explored areas of Brewers Bay beach where algae is dominant and protected. Their hypothesis: is there a threat to algae in Brewers Bay?

Hazell, a biology major, said the research showed that “it seems sea urchins and crabs did not like lyngbya, a common algae growing around the MacLean Marine Science Center. So there was no threat to algae in that area.”

Villisha Gregoire, Semonie Rogers, and Danelly Samuel earned the top score at the Fall Symposium for their presentation on “Differential Success of Primers on Tissue Samples Extracted from Populations of Molossus molossus on St. Thomas.” The three spent their summer doing research on the St. Thomas Campus with UVI Professor Dr. Alice Stanford.

Gordon said during her time in the lab she was able to strengthen her laboratory skills, while gaining experience. She also wanted to clarify whether she wanted to enroll in a Ph.D. or MD program.

After spending the summer learning different methods of genetic analysis and the importance of getting the final findings, Rogers decided to become a medical doctor, specializing in internal medicine.

“This is one of my favorite events,” said Dr. Camille McKayle, UVI provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, who marveled at the research projects after viewing them. “It shows the potential of our students and our faculty mentorships. It makes me very inspired.”

UVI has more than 15 research centers and institutes studying diverse topics. Faculty members guide students in cutting edge research that has earned students accolades at UVI and nationally.

“These experiences doing authentic research help students experience the work of professional scientists,” said Dr. Sandra Romano, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics. “It also puts them at a great advantage in getting admitted to competitive graduate programs in a wide variety of STEM and biomedical research.” She continued, “By going to other institutions, students are able to learn more about graduate school opportunities and explore different programs where they might subsequently apply.”

Students returning to UVI after off-campus experiences also mentor beginning students, providing them with inspiration to continue in their pursuit of a career in science. Students interested in these kinds of experiences can participate in ECS activities as soon as they start at UVI. ECS also provides a variety of levels of financial support to students through an online application process with an annual Feb. 28, deadline.

Dr. Marc Boumedine, professor of computer science, said that student research poster and oral presentations were evaluated based on criteria set by the American Society for Microbiology/ABRCMS. Participation in the research symposium gives students a leg up on others when applying for graduate programs and fellowships, he said. Students at the symposium presented their findings to peers, faculty, family and the greater Virgin Islands community.

“It’s not enough to get a 4.0 GPA. You need experience, research, and publication outside of class work,” Boumedine said. “This event shows what researchers are doing elsewhere can be done at UVI.”

Commodore, who won second place for her research on antibiotic resistance bacteria, agrees. “When I first got to Yale University for the summer I felt like a fish out of water. Toward the end of my time there I learned I was definitely prepared from my biology classes at UVI.”

The winning projects from the Fall Research Symposium are:

1st Place Winners (Top Score)

Group Poster Presentation #41

Student Presenters Names: Villisha Gregoire, Semonie Rogers, and Danelly Samuel

Presentation Title: Differential Success of Primers on Tissue Samples Extracted from Populations of Molossus molossus on St. Thomas

Research Location/Institutions: University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas Campus

Mentor: Dr. Alice Stanford

Research Funding: UVI NSF HBCU-UP grant #137472 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE)

2nd Place Winner

Individual Poster Presentation #32

Student Presenters Name: Nirisha Commodore

Presentation Title: Identifying Intrinsic Resistance in Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Research Location/Institutions: Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut

Mentor: Dr. Barbara Kazmierczak

Research Funding: Yale BioMed Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship

3rd Place Winner

Individual Poster Presentation #38

Student Presenter Name: Shanan Emmanuel

Presentation Title: Development of a Protocol for Enrichment of Hemogregarine-Infected Fish Erythrocytes and Transmissible Cysts

Research Location/Institutions: 1Brown University, 2University of the Virgin Islands

Mentors: Dr. Andrew G. Campbell1 and Dr. Jennilee B. Robinson2

Research Funding: UVI NIH MARC grant #5T34GM008422

Students interested in summer research at UVI should browse the ECS website or contact Aimee Sanchez for more information.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

UVI: Breaking Down Barriers

(Fom left to right) Janelle Saruaw, Michele Weichman, and Dr. Patricia Rhymer pose
for a group photo after a panel discussion on the diversity in sexual orientation.

UVI’s Counseling and Career Services Department, the UVI Substance Abuse and HIV/AIDS Prevention Program, and the Psychology and Brothers with a Cause student organizations hosted a panel discussion about breaking down barriers on the topic of diversity in sexual orientation. There were four panelists, including Pastor Beltane Harrigan, founder of the Way of the Cross Baptist Church, Dr. Patricia Rhymer, a professor of psychology, and two persons living the diverse lifestyle, Janelle Sarauw and Michele Weichman.

The first round of questions were primarily focused on how the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) debate is affecting the community. The questions that followed asked about specific details from the panelists’ lives. Both Sarauw and Weichman divulged details on “coming out” to their friends and loved ones for the first time. They talked about moments in their lives when they understood they were different from most of the people around them. Another question inquired about the existence of gender roles in same-sex relationships.

The final round of questions came from members of the audience, most of whom directed their questions to Pastor Harrigan. Throughout the discussion, Harrigan was continuously asked about his interpretation of the Bible’s role and viewpoint in regards to the LGBT community and sexual diversity.

The audience was left with a better understanding of the struggles that the LGBT community faces and in turn, members of the LGBT community were given the opportunity to share their stories in an open environment.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Students Play a UVI Version of Jeopardy

UVI students play a game of Jeopardy to test their knowledge of UVI's academic procedures, registration and advisement.

“Where do you go to receive your on-campus parking permit?”

“Which degree program offers an opportunity to partner with Columbia University and the University of Florida?

In celebration of UVI Pride Week, the Center for Student Success hosted Jeopardy games at various locations around campus, including the library courtyard, the UVI Bookstore, and the Classroom Administration Building (CAB).

The final Jeopardy round was played with the winning teams from Monday’s and Wednesday’s games. The event, held outside the CAB, was attended by several students who seemed eager to play, learn, and of course, win prizes that included several $30 gift certificates from the UVI Bookstore. The top prize was a $50 gift certificate, also compliments from the Bookstore.

The competition was not just for fun as it proved to be very informative. The questions asked were about academic procedures, registration, advisement, and other tidbits of useful information. Students seemed actively engaged while the information was being presented to them. They were laughing, singing, and willingly working together towards a common goal…a new hoodie from the Bookstore.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Service with a Smile

UVI Hospitality and Tourism Program Director Tamara Lang and UVI Hospitality students pose for a photo at the RT Park Stakeholder Reception.

A capacity crowd of 1,000-plus patrons packed into the Reichhold Center for the Arts to see rhythm and blues powerhouse Babyface perform his long list of hit records. Many patrons viewed the action on stage from a bird’s eye view in the new Sky Lounge.

Along with the plush couches and gleaming wood tables with ambient candles, were a half dozen University of the Virgin Islands students, dressed smartly in black pants and crisp white shirts. Donning huge smiles some offered patrons a cheery “Good night!” while others served drinks at the newly built Sky Bar. Some students assumed the role of waiters, taking orders from patrons, while others served beverages and light refreshments.

The students are all members of the University of the Virgin Islands Hospitality and Tourism Management Program, an initiative started by UVI President David Hall some six years ago.

The hospitality program curriculum was passed in 2010 and the four-year degree program began in 2012. To date, the hospitality program has 83 students with 25 taking classes on St. Croix and 58 on St. Thomas. That number includes transfer students from neighboring islands including the British Virgin Islands and Dominica. Three students from the inaugural class graduated from the program in May 2015. The students will receive a bachelor of Business Administration degree with a major in Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Along with general requirements, courses include “Food Production and Safety,” “Resort Management,” “Cruise Line Operations and Management,” “Tourism Development,” and “Hospitality Strategy,” among others.

In its relatively short life as an academic major, the program has racked up accolades and praise both on and outside the campus.

Most recently, in June Dr. Hall singled out the program for his quarterly President’s Appreciation Award.

“UVI’s Hospitality and Tourism Management Program continues to make an indelible impact in our community and the hospitality and tourism industry,” said President Hall. “Our students have excelled in this program and are a cornerstone of many high-end signature events on campus and throughout the territory.”

One month later, the hospitality program received national recognition, ranking number 26, in a list of “50 Most Affordable Small Colleges for Hospitality Administration and Management.” The survey, published on the site, features a picture from the UVI St. Croix campus, along with a summary of the program and tuition fees.

The program’s students are in high demand for Virgin Islands community events involving hospitality and tourism. Indeed, it was the students’ debut at the Reichhold Center concert that got the attention of a prominent restaurant owner on St. Thomas. After witnessing the level of service rendered to patrons by students that evening, Michael and Judy Watson, owners of Petite Pump Room restaurant, donated $1,000 to the hospitality program. In January, Michael Watson called the program’s director, Tamara Lang, and asked if six students within the hospitality major would like the opportunity to work alongside his catering team and serve at the Governor’s State of the Territory address reception.

More than six students volunteered and served the newly-elected governor and other dignitaries at the high profile event.

According to Lang, the students have twice catered the Fall Yacht Fest held in the British Virgin Islands, hosted by former Gov. John P. deJongh, Jr. Additionally, the students delivered catering and hospitality services during a recent VI Friendship Day activity—an event that boasted more than 500 high-profile guests and members of the public, Lang said.

She added, “Students are also doing catering events at private homes around the island.”

More recently, the University of the Virgin Islands cafeteria has collaborated with the hospitality program, allowing students to assume numerous roles in the front and back of the dining facility. Three of the program’s students concentrating on Food and Beverage Management are writing their senior business plan project on the UVI cafeteria. Another 15 students studying Customer Management are working in various sectors of the dining pavilion, interacting with patrons.

The program strives to achieve three main goals, according to Lang.

The first is to build a relationship between the hospitality program and the tourism industry. Second, to have students gain experience so they can secure jobs. And third, to receive funding for the program.

The goal to secure jobs is already being realized. Cathriellah Shabazz, a senior year student, participates in the program on the Albert A. Sheen St. Croix campus. Shabazz said her classroom experience earned her a job at a local hotel.

“I did an internship at the Tamarind Reef Resort at the front desk. It was like having one of my management classes in action. At first you hesitate, then you remember you know how to do this because you did it in class,” Shabazz said.

The management at the hotel was so impressed with her skills, Shabazz was offered a full-time position, and now takes her hospitality and tourism classes in the evening.

Along with their classroom training, students participate in activities such as the Ritz Carlton Customer Service Training. Additional professional training is gained through the UVI Hospitality and Tourism Organization, which is comprised of students within and outside the major. Students are elected as officers to the group and plan workshops on a variety of topics from customer service to serving and clearing dining tables.

The combined in-class and community training has made the program a stellar one.

“They understand what’s required by the industry and they understand that service is paramount,” said Lang. “I instill that professionalism comes first.”

Monday, June 29, 2015

UVI Got Talent

“Welcome to a callaloo of expression,” was the opening statement to University of the Virgin Islands’ 2015 “UVI Got Talent, Speak Up” poetry slam. The occasion was held to celebrate the art of literary expression in one of its most profound forms - poetry. Over 36 people attended, including staff, students, and visitors, all with the same interest at heart. The event kicked off with an enchanting rendition of the popular Negro spiritual “Go Down Moses,” performed by the English 100 morning class, in honor of poetry’s African American roots.

After its predecessor, the English 100 afternoon class did not disappoint with their thought-provoking deliverance of “What is Poetry?” by Nikki Giovanni. Richard Schrader, a Caribbean author, shared haiku poems from his book “A leaf in the wind” and students followed reading their dekaaz. During the brief open mic session, students and staff recited some of their own pieces. “Speak Up” concluded with a closing poem by student, Rennetta Lewis.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

UVI Student Researchers, Largest in History, Present at NSF Conference

UVI students, faculty and administrators pose for a fun photo at the 2015 Emerging Researchers National Conference

Fourteen University of the Virgin Islands students, representing the largest contingent in the University’s history, attended the 2015 Emerging Researchers National (ERN) Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM,) in Spring 2015 in Washington D.C. The UVI students from the College of Science and Mathematics were also accompanied by six faculty members.

UVI student poster presentations at the ERN Conference displayed the results of research projects students were engaged in during summer research experiences at UVI and abroad. “Our students were selected along with hundreds of other students from across the country to present posters after a competitive application process in which they submitted a scientific abstract for approval,” said Aimee Sanchez of the UVI Emerging Caribbean Scientists (ECS) Programs. “It is the largest group ever to participate and represent UVI in history.”

The objectives of the ERN conference are to help undergraduate and graduate students to enhance their science communication skills and to better understand how to prepare for science careers in a global workforce. The conference is aimed at college and university students.

Two UVI students, Rafael Almonte and Jamar Liburd, received awards for their outstanding poster presentation after a rigorous review process from judges at the conference. Liburd won first place in the category of nanoscience and physics for his presentation titled “Swift Observations of the Recent X‐ray Activity of Eta Carinae.” The research for his presentation was part of his summer research experience conducted at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Institute for Space Studies with Dr. David Morris, director of the UVI Etelman Observatory and assistant professor of physics. Rafael won first place in the category of Technology and Engineering for his presentation titled, “Testing of a Narrow Gap Detector Designed for a Sensitive X‐ray Polarimeter.” Rafael was also mentored by Dr. Morris at the NASA Goddard Institute.

Attendance to the conference is funded through National Science Foundation (NSF) programs. Several students also received travel awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and UVI sponsored the rest through funding from the NSF Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program grant.

Other student presentations at the 2015 ERN Conference include:

· Sherika Alexis - “Low level of Chytrid Fungus Found on the Island of St. Thomas.”

· Darnel Allen - “Investigating the Electronic Properties of Doped CVD Graphene.”

· Keturah Bethel - “Spillover Effects in Catalysis by First Principles.”

· Shakim Cooper - “Determining the Limiting Magnitude of the Virgin Islands Robotic


· Nichole Etienne - “A Study of Classification Accuracy of the Hunt Algorithm using

Entropy and Gini Measurements on Breast Cancer Wisconsin Dataset.”

· Gejae Jeffers - “Chlorophyll - A Concentration in Bioluminescent Mangrove Lagoon, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands.”

· Lorne Joseph “Spectroscopic Elucidation of the Equilibria Involving Pyridine and Its

Analogues with Cobaloximes in Various Solvents.”

· Ruel Mitchel - “Neutron Stars.”

· Bonnie President - “Sophorolipid Production Using Candida Bombicola.”

· Ariane Ramsundar - “Absorption Studies on a Clinoptilolite Packed Column for Treatment of Septic Tank Effluent.”

· Omani Tuitt - “Antioxidant Activity in Commercial Spices.”

· Elangeni Yabba - “Comparison of Hydrophilic and Lipophilic Antioxidant Activity

between Commercial and Fresh Herbs.”

· Ykeshia Zamore - “Surface Segregation in Mixed Oxides.”

Friday, April 10, 2015

RTPark – New Director, New Vision

Robotics, underwater fiber optics, and wind turbines are a technological puzzle to many people. That may not be the case for long in the Virgin Islands.

Dr. Gillian Marcelle, the newly appointed director of the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park (RTPark), says one of her main priorities is to demystify technology and get the community more involved in the activities at the RTPark.

“We want to answer the questions ‘What does it all mean?’, ‘How does it involve me as an individual?’” says Dr. Marcelle. “Technology is typically set aside and some people find it scary. It is an important role for us to be an agent of change in that regard.”

Dr. Marcelle took the helm of the RTPark in January 2015, after more than 20 years of global experience in technology and innovation. She was head of the Centre for Science Technology and Innovation Indicators in South Africa, where she lived for 16 years. She also held an appointment as a research scholar at the Tata Centre for Technology and Design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This is coupled with years of experience working with the United Nations and World Bank.

In her short tenure at the RTPark, Dr. Marcelle is filled with ideas and energy on how to make the park more accessible to Virgin Islands residents.

“We are going to start something I call ‘Tech Fridays,’ where the public is invited to the park to see and hear firsthand the activities of the park’s businesses,” Dr. Marcelle says. “Any citizen of the Virgin Islands should feel that the activities of the RT Park touches his or her life,” Marcelle says. “We are modeling ourselves after many different parts of UVI where community engagement is taken seriously.”

Another key item on her agenda is increasing the number of businesses in the park.

“In 2012 there were probably 18 active clients. Now we are at 27. By the end of this calendar year, we expect to be close to 35 active clients,” she says.

Use of the term “clients,” as opposed to “tenants” is just one small change Marcelle has already brought to the job.

“I think the relationship between a tenant and a landlord is different than the relationship between partners. We want to see our clients as partners sharing knowledge and expertise,” she says.

In mid-March, Dr. Marcelle hosted a stakeholder reception on St. Thomas for government officials, UVI administration members and clients of the RTPark. There, she outlined her vision for the future of the park. The event gave RTPark clients a rare opportunity to meet each other and exchange ideas.

Other changes in store for the RT Park include becoming a resource for political leaders in the territory. “We want to be a go-to, trusted place where if you’re in the political decision-making capacity you can secure an independent view on technology trends and technological developments,” Dr. Marcelle says.

Additionally, Dr. Marcelle plans to build on the RTPark’s achievement in energy conservation. In August 2014, Building 64 West Center, located on the Albert A. Sheen Campus, was awarded the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)® Silver Certification under the leadership of former park Director David Zumwalt.

Zumwalt said at that time, “The 64 West Center project has fostered collaboration and visionary leadership from the moment design got underway in 2006. It changes the way buildings will be built in the USVI, and is a landmark for St. Croix and for the future growth of the RTPark.”

Dr. Marcelle agrees. “LEED certification signals we have environmental concerns in everything we do. Many of our clients work in businesses related to energy. The certification gives assurances about our ability to undertake energy standards.”

Not only is Dr. Marcelle, adjusting to her new offices at 64 West, she is settling into the St. Croix community. As a native of Trinidad she finds the transition a smooth one.

“I’m familiar with the topography and the island lifestyle,” she says. “I love living in the Western end of St. Croix, you can go 10 minutes without seeing another car! It’s lovely.”

As for her tenure at UVI so far, Dr. Marcelle says, “ I’m pleased and delighted that the welcome has been tremendous. It feels gratifying and encouraging.”

Friday, February 20, 2015

First Annual UVI Hackfest A Resounding Success

UVI students brainstorm to create new technologies. 

An innovative new strategy has been formed against drunk driving and it’s all compliments of a group of tech savvy University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) students.

During the recent 2015 Hackfest held on the St. Thomas campus, a four-member team took home the award for “Best Hack”—and $500—for developing a telephone app titled “Cup Check.” The app features methods to monitor alcohol consumption with the goal of keeping drunk drivers off the roads. Members of the winning team were Sean R. Benjamin, Jr., Keturah Bethel, Shaquan Lewis, and Daricia Wilkinson.

The challenge was daunting. Under the theme “problem solved” students were asked to develop a technological solution to an everyday problem in the Virgin Islands.

Wilkinson, says the problem of drunk driving was paramount with her group. “It was a long process coming up with the idea,” Wilkinson says. “We kept thinking how could we be innovative? How could we make this stand out?”

Wilkinson is tightlipped about the specifics of the app, since it is currently in development. But, she offers, “Essentially, the app monitors how much you drink to prevent you from getting drunk. It can calculate your consumption and your blood alcohol level.”

“Cup Check” may soon be coming to a phone near you. Wilkinson says sponsoring company NEARiX LLC will help her team develop “Cup Check” into an actual telephone application. NEARiX is a St. Croix-based technology and software development company.

For 24 hours Feb 6 and 7, the UVI Library was transformed into a think tank as students worked in teams, huddled around computers brainstorming ideas. Coffee and energy drinks became a staple of the night as teams rushed to create a winning project during a tight deadline.

“The competition was great because we basically had six and a half hours to come up with an idea for an app that would be impactful. We used up about two of those hours deliberating on the idea itself,” Lewis says. “Then it was crunch time after lunch when we were busy putting the details together, finalizing the visual presentation and prepping for the oral presentation.” He adds, “It was wonderful to see how the thought process of my team was flowing, and the level of deep thinking we used in putting the features of the app in place.”

Bethel is Vice President of UVIDEA, the student club that organized Hackfest. “The competition itself was a game changer. I was extremely pleased that students were willing and excited to participate,” Bethel says. “It made me realize that the University of the Virgin Islands is no underdog. We are taking a step in the right direction and moving rapidly. It was a little nerve-wracking though, because no one wants to be that team that has nothing to show after seven hours!”

The most “Innovative Hack” was awarded to team members Jason Baron, Nichole Etienne, Denny Smith and Leon Wheeler for their “Plant-O-Gram” telephone app. The app uses photo recognition technology to identify plants and communicate their health value to the community.

Students Andy Breaton, Julisa Marcel, and Kailen King received “Most Impactful Hack” for their real-time crime reporting and mapping phone application.

The Hackathon will be an annual event for UVI with the next one being held on the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix.

As for the $500 cash prize, Wilkinson said her team chose to donate the money back to the UVIDEA club as a way to support their ongoing work.

Bethel wholeheartedly supports that action. “As Vice President of UVIDEA, I am elated to be initiating change alongside my teammates. We as a student body have longed for an upgrade in technology and more experience. UVIDEA's goal is to create an environment of innovative and entrepreneurial minds. By first eliciting a change in our students, we are carving out a better future and building a stronger foundation for our territory.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

UVI Research Students Win Big at National Conference

 UVI ABRCMS winners (From left) Shelsa Marcel, Khalin Nisbett, Ayanna Fredericks, Krystal Winter, and Serena Joseph pose in front of the UVI Library on the St. Thomas Campus. 

More than anything, Khalin Nisbett wants to use chemistry to save lives. The idea of extracting the extraordinary from ordinary items in the Caribbean excites her. Nisbett, a University of the Virgin Islands science major, spent last summer researching the anti-cancer agents that may be found in lemon grass – a species of grass commonly used in the Caribbean to make tea.

Her efforts were rewarded when she became one of five UVI research students to bring home awards this fall from the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), the largest professional conference for minority students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in the United States. Nisbett, Ayanna Fredericks, Serena Joseph, Shelsa Marcel and Krystal Wynter presented posters on their research alongside 1,700 students from 700 colleges and universities all over the country. Seventeen UVI STEM students presented their research at the conference.

“This is the most wins ever for UVI,” said UVI Marine Biology Professor Dr. Teresa Turner, who accompanied the UVI contingent of students along with Dr. Aletha Baumann, a member of the psychology faculty on St. Croix.

Nisbett said her experience at the conference changed her life. “It opened another window for me,” she said. “I can now see my future a little clearer and it feels like my only restraint is myself. I felt proud of myself, and the other four females of UVI who won.”

Nisbett plans to continue her investigation into anti-cancer agents in lemon grass. “This research is important to the community and myself,” she said. “If we can find and deliver an anti-cancer agent that's already popular enough as a breakfast beverage, it means that we would have found an economic and abundant alternative to traditional treatments. That excites me.” Nisbett conducted her research with Dr. Yakini Brandy, a UVI chemistry professor on the St. Thomas Campus.

Wynter, a senior psychology major, won a best poster award in neurosciences. She used the Optogenetics Approach to conduct her research at a neuroscience lab at the University of Iowa. Wynter’s goal was to answer questions about the body that could not have been answered before the method was developed. Optogenetics uses light to control neurons, which have been genetically sensitized to light. Light-responsive proteins allow scientists to turn neurons on or off selectively with precision. Introducing these proteins into cultured cells or the brains of live animals allows investigation of the structure and function of neural networks.

“Optogenetics is fairly new,” she said. “We are now able to answer more system level questions that we were not able to before. With further research and our findings, we may be able to help people with general anxiety disorders.” Wynter did research on drug addiction, memory and learning.

When presenting at the conference her goal was to educate, so she was caught off guard when she won. “It didn't really sink in until after a while,” said Wynter. “I was really excited when I heard them say University of the Virgin Islands, but I kept thinking it was another student who presented in my discipline.” She continued, “It wasn't until I was walking back to my seat that it hit me.”

“After receiving the award, my friend Ayanna, who also won an award, was standing with her arms open,” said Wynter. “She ran all the way from the back of the room to give me a hug and told me how proud she was. I almost cried.”

“I am just happy to have represented my school well and make my family, mentor, advisors and friends proud,” she said.

Serena Joseph won best poster in the category of microbiology. Joseph, a junior biology major, presented her research on parasites in hair sheep.

Her love for animal science began at the age of seven. She found an injured stray dog and assisted the veterinarian in wrapping the animal’s broken hind leg. The family adopted the dog and nursed it back to health. From that moment, she knew that her interest was in animal science. Joseph spent last summer conducting research with Dr. Robert Godfrey, director of the UVI Agriculture Experiment Station on St. Croix.

Dr. Godfrey was pleased and surprised that Joseph won. “The surprise was not because I doubted her as a scientist or a presenter,” he said. “I was surprised that she did so well with an agricultural science project at a conference that really does not have agriculture as a significant component. She was able to explain her project to non-agricultural people, which can be difficult sometimes, but it is one of her many skills.”

Joseph has worked with Dr. Godfrey and his staff on several projects over the past few years. “She is a very fast learner whether it is in the field or the lab,” said Dr. Godfrey. “She was very astute at understanding the statistical analysis and what it meant for her data, which is very impressive.”

Ayanna Fredericks, a senior psychology major, won best poster in social and behavioral sciences. She said that winning the award was validation for all of the hard work she has been doing to earn her undergraduate degree. Fredericks worked with Dr. Kimarie Engerman, UVI associate professor of psychology and Doris Battiste, dean of students on St. Thomas, on a project analyzing alcohol and drug use among UVI students. After graduating from UVI in the spring, Fredericks plans to go onto earn a Ph.D. in psychology. “My plans ultimately are to return to the U.S. Virgin Islands to work with at-risk youth in the system,” she said. “That is actually my passion.”

“The youth need more people in their corner,” said Fredericks. “There are so many things that are pulling them in more negative directions. I want to be able to make an impact on their lives.”

Shelsa Marcel, senior computer science major, won a best poster award in the category of molecular and computational biology. Marcel used computer science and genetics to create an algorithm to discover how proteins in the body blend to DNA. During the summer, Marcel worked with a mentor from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on the research. “Presenting at a national conference opened my eyes to the possibilities that there are in research,” said Marcel. While at the conference she was able to interact with many people in different fields and was able to put herself on a global scale and see how many opportunities are open to her in science in general.

Marcel plans to pursue a Ph.D. in bioinformatics, an interdisciplinary field of science that combines computer science, statistics, mathematics, and engineering to study and process biological data. She plans to become a research scientist and open her own lab.

UVI and its students have participated in the ABRCMS for the past 17 years. Each student won $250.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Golden Key Honour Society Recognizes UVI’s St. Thomas Chapter

The St. Thomas Chapter of UVI’s Golden Key International Honour Society was recognized as the organization’s Region 3 “Spark A Change” Chapter of the Month in November. The chapter was also the second place winner in the “Spark A Change” campaign among Golden Key chapters worldwide.

Among the numerous activities the chapter carried out to earn the distinction were presentations at a recent Lockhart Elementary School mentorship program for sixth grade students. Current and alumni Golden Key male members made a “Boys to Men” presentation, while current and alumni female members appeared as a “Queen’s Court,” according to Chapter President Aquila Dorsey.

Shown, from left, are Aquila Dorsey - Miss UVI Homecoming Queen 2012; Elisa Thomas - Miss UVI and Miss NBCA 2014;
Khadijah Lee - Miss St. John 2013; and Shayla Solomon - Miss Virgin Islands America 2009.
Four members who are current and former queens used their training in pageantry and professional etiquette to make a presentation on self-worth and value in life to the students. This interactive session, with some 40 girls, included hands-on activities and role playing exercises. Subtopics included: Knowing Who You Are, Making the Right Choices, Giving and Receiving Respect, and Academic Excellence.

During the male session, current and alumni members – including two professional engineers and a special appearance by professional boxer, Julius “The Chef” Jackson – shared their personal success stories with approximately 40 boys in the program. They also discussed the relevance of self-empowerment in order to overcome bullying, peer pressure and other challenges in life.