Thursday, July 21, 2016

Splash Drones Assist UVI-CMES with Sea Turtle Research at Brewers Bay

Dr. Paul Jobsis introducing the splash drone to Brewers Bay

            Counting sea turtles in Brewers Bay might not seem difficult, but ask any researcher at UVI’s Center for Marine and Environmental Studies (UVI-CMES) and you will hear a story about endangered sea turtles that must be protected.  Marine biology researcher Paul Jobsis and his students at UVI are working to save sea turtles from extinction.
            The Green sea turtles and Hawksbill turtles that reside in Brewer’s Bay are currently on the endangered species list, and their survival is becoming increasingly dependent on the care and accuracy with which they are monitored.  Fortunately, research teams at UVI-CMES are dedicated to tracking sea turtle populations and behavior patterns in and beyond Brewers Bay.  The recent use of a splash drone, provided by Virgin Islands Drone Services and flown by local enthusiast Nick Lynch, to determine the accuracy of the typical monitoring surveys has provided an aerial view of the turtles in the bay.
            “Counting sea turtles using swimming surveys can be tricky,” said Howard Forbes, Jr., a research and public service extension specialist.  “Because they’re underwater, it’s easy to count a turtle twice or miss turtles that swim out of view to avoid the survey team.  But the footage we get from the splash drone allows us to go back and check the accuracy of the swimming survey.  The images we collect are also useful for papers and presentations that contribute to our understanding of marine organisms.”
            A splash drone is a remote control flying device that carries a waterproof camera capable of capturing still and moving images.  In the context of marine science research, it is launched from a boat and navigated around the bay, hovering above the water.  Footage captured by the camera affixed to the drone gives scientists a birds-eye view not only of the sea turtles themselves, but also of the underwater eco-system in which these marine reptiles promote biodiversity.  
UVI researcher using a remote transmitter to control a splash drone.

“Everything within an eco-system plays a role,” said Forbes. “Take, for example, the loss of critical habitat when Hurricane Earl wiped out a large percentage of the sea grass beds within Brewers Bay.  This was a big problem for the Green sea turtles in the bay, who function as underwater lawnmowers.  But the sea grass is also reliant on the turtle whose continuous nibbling encourages it to grow faster.  The more we know about how turtles feed, reproduce, behave and interact with all elements of the eco-systems in which they live, the better equipped we will be to preserve those eco-systems.”
Sadly, the biggest threat to Caribbean sea turtles is the reckless behavior of human beings.  While it is illegal to harvest sea turtles in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands continues to maintain a two month-long harvesting season in which residents are allowed to hunt sea turtles.  The meat is used for food, while the shells are typically used for making jewelry.  But even as environmental advocates pressure the BVI to eliminate its harvesting season, poachers in both territories go on killing the animals without regard for the delicately balanced eco-systems upon which their survival depends.
Other man-made threats to sea turtles include climate change and pollution.  Warmer atmospheric temperatures resulting from climate change could possibly affect the gender distribution of sea turtles as warmer temperatures cause their eggs to produce more females. Sea turtles appear to be monogamous, so it is unclear how the changing ratio of females to males will affect the endangered populations.  Moreover, warmer water that has also been contaminated by harmful bacteria contributes to the destruction of coral reefs, which poses a threat to the Hawksbill sea turtle who dines on coral polyps and sponges.  The Leatherback sea turtle, which nests on St. Thomas, eats jellyfish, which are still in good supply.  But because the Leatherback sea turtle cannot distinguish between a jellyfish and a plastic bag, it will sometimes eat the bag, which sits in the turtle’s stomach, prohibiting normal digestion, until the turtle dies prematurely.  The proliferation of marine debris and plastics is a serious threat to sea turtles and the habitats in which they live.
The accumulation of knowledge is a crucial part of being able to prevent the further degradation of marine eco-systems such as Brewers Bay in which the endangered sea turtle once thrived.  So marine biologists get pretty excited when a new piece of technology comes along that can assist with some of the more painstaking aspects of the research process.  “The splash drone is an effective research tool that will provide scientists with a new way to study sea turtles,” said Forbes. “The more we know about these species, the better able we will be to protect them.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

UVI Celebrates 25th Anniversary of the Play – “Heaven”

Cynthia (Nyaila Callwood) returns to find Tony ( Paul Maynard Jr.)
consoling Dilys (Nastassia Jones) after she confronts him about
cheating on her.

Full-time Professor, Part-time Actor: Nastassia Jones Gives Acting a Shot...

A play about love and deception set in a discotheque called Heaven, the play features three UVI students, a UVI senior actor and UVI professor, Nastassia Jones.

Dr. Jones came to UVI last year after serving as an assistant professor of biology at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, AR. Now at UVI, Dr. Jones is an assistant professor of science education and managing director of the VI

Institute for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education Research and Practice.

As a full-time faculty member, Dr. Jones doesn’t have a lot of free time on her hands, but that didn’t stop her from pursuing the opportunity to play the role of Dilys in the play, “Heaven.” It was a huge time commitment, but a rewarding experience, she said.

Dr. Jones was accustomed to speaking in front of people as a professor, but she had no previous acting experience. The opportunity came about when, as she was stepping into her car at the end of a long work day, Edgecombe asked her if she had ever been an actor. “I was like, no, not at all,” said Dr. Jones. But Edgecombe was not deterred. He told her what he was looking for, and shared a rough verbal sketch of the character. “He asked me to read some lines and I said ‘sure!’”
Tony (Paul Maynard Jr.) is smoothing things over with
Cynthia (Nyaila Callwood) despite his wife
coming out for their Anniversary celebration.

“I read the lines at practice and I was like, this isn’t going to work. But all the other actors seemed to think that it did work, and that I was perfect for the part. I thought about it for a couple of days before I decided to give it a shot.”

“My favorite part about this entire experience was the audience engagement when we performed. You could hear them laugh during the show, which meant that we were into our characters and were believing us,” Dr. Jones said.

At the end of every play, Edgecombe would ask the audience for feedback. “He [Edgecombe] is a teacher. He’s an educator,” said Dr. Jones. “So any correction is from a place of perfection, a place of teaching us what we’re supposed to be doing and how to learn.”

This year in St. Thomas, the cast performed under a new lighting system at the UVI Little Theater. On April 19, the cast of Heaven recorded a digital version that is now available on DVD. “The lighting system upgrade really contributed to making the digital version possible.,” Dr. Jones said.

Dr. Jones doesn’t know if she will star in the next UVI production, but she is loving her time at UVI. “I love it here and I love my job,” she said. “I’m hoping that this will be a place in which I can continue to grow.”

Sam (Jerome Kendall) tries to persuade
(Khalarni Rivers) to see things his way.
In the weeks leading up to the play, which premiered at the Little Theater on St. Thomas, the cast rehearsed five to six hours a week, including on weekends. Dr. Jones played Dilys, Tony’s wife and a mother of three who chooses not to acknowledge that her husband is cheating on her. “I couldn’t connect to the character superficially,” Dr. Jones said. “But I had to revisit my childhood experience in order to play this particular role since my mom is a mother of three. Once I embraced that, it made everything else easier.”

Friday, July 8, 2016

UVI Names 2016 Employees of the Year Recipients

Professor Aletha Baumann accepts an Employee of the Year gift from President David Hall (left photo). Dr. Hall presents the Employee of the Year award to Henville Pole (right photo). 

Fifty-seven employees on the St. Thomas Campus and 34 employees on the Albert A. Sheen Campus, on St. Croix were recognized for their service and dedication to the University of the Virgin Islands at the 42nd Annual Service Awards ceremony. The event was held on April 12 and April 14, – on the Albert A. Sheen Campus and the St. Thomas Campus – respectively. The theme was “UVI Fulfilling Dreams, Service Awards 2016.”

As is customary, the UVI Employee of the Year recipients are kept secret until the service award ceremonies. Henville Pole, the director of budget and executive assistant to the provost, was awarded that honor on the St. Thomas Campus. On the Sheen Campus, Dr. Aletha Baumann, associate professor of psychology, was named Employee of the Year.

“I was stunned,” Dr. Baumann said. “So stunned, in fact, that when I made my way up to the podium I knew that I wanted to thank everyone. But I was speechless.”

Dr. Baumann came to UVI in 1998 as a part-time faculty member who became a full-time employee in 2001. “I have a deep and long-standing connection to UVI,” she said. “I was humbled and honored to be selected.”

Dr. Baumann is now excited to work with Fiona Alexander, last year’s St. Croix Employee of the Year, on the New Employee Orientation policy, which inspires new UVI employees who are learning the ropes. “I remember when I came here as a new employee,” she said. “It was tough to learn all of the processes of this organization.”

Both Dr. Baumann and Pole were initially caught off guard by the recognition. But after taking a moment to reflect, both felt that their successes could be attributed to their hard work and supportive relationships with colleagues.

“It’s definitely not a recognition that I expected,” said Pole, “but it’s something that I cherish because it says to me that my colleagues and the people I work with recognize the work that I do.” Pole often finds himself working late nights and weekends to catch up on things he can’t attend to during the week. “Given the nature of my job, it’s the only quiet time,” he said.

Dr. Baumann and Pole hope that their recognition will strike a chord with other UVI employees by promoting hard work and building positive relationships with co-workers. “What I loved most about this experience was hearing from my colleagues about how I have affected them,” said Dr. Baumann, “and how we worked together to accomplish tasks large and small.”

Gifts were awarded to the two employees of the year, and also to employees who had achieved five, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, or 35 years of service. Retirees were honored as well. Senator Tregenza Roach was the honorable keynote speaker at both ceremonies, and President David Hall congratulated and recognized all of the employees. The event’s theme colors were orange, blue and white to celebrate UVI Pride.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

UVI STEM Program Joins National Innovation Freshman Initiative

Goal to Attract Freshmen to STEM Disciplines

The University of the Virgin Islands is now among 26 other universities that have joined the National University Innovation Freshmen Initiative (#uifresh) in an effort to combat Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) attrition in the United States. 

President Obama welcomed UVI along with eight other institutions that joined the #uifresh initiative at the White House on April 13, during the sixth and final Science Fair of his administration. At the event, President Obama pledged to invest $3 billion in STEM-education programs.

New UVI University Innovation Fellow Shanece Esdaille

eagerly waits to start an interactive day at Microsoft's

UVI students Shanece Esdaille and Dewein Pelle completed the University Innovation Fellows program this spring, and became the fifth and sixth UVI students to earn the national #uifresh designation. Pelle, along with St. Thomas Campus Innovation and Entrepreneurship (UVIDEA) club president, Daricia Wilkinson, spearheaded the effort to make UVI part of the #uifresh initiative. Under this initiative, students and faculty work together to expose all incoming freshman to design thinking, entrepreneurship and innovation with the hope of attracting and retaining more incoming students to STEM disciplines.

According to a report published by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, about 60 percent of students who arrive at college intending to major in STEM subjects switch to other subjects, often in their first year. The goal of this initiative is to reduce attrition by engaging STEM majors in orientation activities and semester-long workshops. 

“We are proud of our students for adding UVI’s voice to this important initiative,” said Dr. Tim Faley, UVI professor and special assistant to the President. “Innovation is driving global competitiveness, and STEM majors are driving innovation. We must do all we can to combat the serious attrition of STEM majors. Our hackathons and the newly-created Innovation Centers – along with the design-centric programs that the centers support – are just a part of our effort to increase student interest in STEM-based Innovation at UVI.”

The national #uifresh program is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and is part of the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation, which is managed by and housed at Stanford University. Since its inception, the program has trained more than 600 students from 200 universities all over the United States.
Dr. Wayne Archibald is engaged in a group
activity at Google

The University Innovation Fellows program is also a nationwide initiative whose goal is to create agents of change on college campuses around the country. The students that graduate from this program implement important changes to curriculum, establish makerspaces and develop innovative and entrepreneurial ecosystems within their programs.                                                                                                                                                         
UVI has been a part of this cohort of change makers since 2014, with four students leading the way: Daricia Wilkinson, Ykeshia Zamore, Chaince Williams and Keturah Bethel. Dr. Wayne Archibald, director of Caribbean Green Technology Center for UVI, has served as the faculty sponsor. “Our many accomplishments range from hosting the territory’s first hackathons to creating Innovation Centers on both campuses,” said Daricia Wilkinson, an Information Systems and Technology major who graduated this spring. “Now we welcome two new fellows, Shanece Esdaille and Dewein Pelle, who will take the lead on the University’s innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives.” 

As a newly inducted fellow, Esdaille was able to attend the annual regional meetup in Silicon Valley from March 16-21, 2016, where Wilkinson also delivered a presentation on the progress of the work at UVI for more than 350 attendees. Esdaille described the four-day workshop as an “extremely empowering experience” which enabled Innovation Fellows from many different universities to work together toward the common goal of gaining the skills, attitudes and knowledge they will need to stimulate change on their home campuses.

UVI Fellow Shanece Esdaille brainstorms 
with other national fellows 
“We learned how to work with others and become better team players through design thinking that was inspired by many different activities,” Esdaille said. “One of the things that impacted me the most was learning how to use the phrase ‘yes, and …’ instead of ‘yes, but ...’ This helped me to work more effectively within a group that has a single goal by encouraging rather than belittling other members.”

Esdaille established lasting relationships with fellows from other campuses, one of whom interviewed her for a project she’d been working on at George Mason University. The project dealt with empowering black women and stimulating their awareness of how important their roles are. “This greatly inspired me to be more proactive at UVI,” said Esdaille. “I feel strongly about creating a UIFresh organization on campus that will target freshmen and lead them toward innovation and entrepreneurial activities at UVI.”

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 Ebon√© Adams, Jai Kenyatta Anderson, Kevon Browne, Katherine Callwood, Mone√© 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