Monday, July 15, 2013

13D Winners Work to Make Their Dreams a Reality

UVI students receive $30,000 to launch shrimp farming business…
Running his own business wasn’t Duane Sydney’s first goal, but that all changed when his girlfriend of three years, Kalayar Myint, asked him to enter the 13D Student Entrepreneurship Competition. Myint has always wanted to start her own business. She came to UVI from Yangon, Myanmar where she worked with her grandfather in the family business.  “I always had a dream of having my own business because of my grandfather,” says Myint. “He is my inspiration, and he is the reason why I majored in Business Administration with a concentration in accounting at UVI.”

 The two pooled their skills and entered the competition in fall 2012-2013 along with 109 other students.  “We took both of our majors and pretty much merged them together,” says Sydney, who has an Associate of Applied Science degree in Process Technology. “She has the business and accounting aspect of everything and for me I have more of the process knowledge. We put it together and came up with the idea of shrimp farming.”

After months of hard work and multiple drafts of their business plan, they won first prize. Myint and Sydney were presented with a $30,000 check to help start DK Shrimp Farm on St. Croix. They hope to become major exporters of shrimp to the Caribbean market. Both graduated from UVI in June 2013.

The student entrepreneurship competitions are made possible by a $5 million gift to UVI from investment strategist and entrepreneur Kiril Sokoloff, the founder of 13D Research on St. Thomas. “Thanks to the generous gift from Kiril Sokoloff and 13D, the student competition is having a large impact on the territory,” says 13D Contest Coordinator Dr. Glenn Metts, associate professor of management at UVI. “It has raised the level of consciousness and conversation about entrepreneurship.”

“The 13D program is very worthwhile because it helps UVI student’s dreams come into reality,” said Myint. “More importantly my dream turned into a reality.” Sydney says that the competition changed him. “It definitely changed me for the better,” he says. “It really inspired me to pursue more business aspects.”  Instead of looking for a job, he is asking himself who he can employ. “How can I assist with the economy,” says Sydney, who often thinks of the ill effects of the closing of the HOVENSA refinery on St. Croix and how he can help. “The goal is to try to get the business as big as possible to try to get some people employed,” he says.

Currently, Sydney and Myint are applying for permits from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture and seeking permission to use land he already owns to raise the shrimp. While they already have approval to grow crops on the land, they are having a challenge getting the land rezoned for livestock. They are currently reviewing all their options.  "Like they even mentioned in the competition, the hardest part about getting a business going is to get it started,” Sydney says. “We are not going to stop until we get this thing going.”

Myint has been in touch with Dr. Metts to discuss their options. “Our support to the winners is ongoing,” says Dr. Metts.  “It doesn’t stop after the competition.” He says that all of the 13D finalists receive support well after the competition is over.  The other contest winners were Sharon Seibert, who received $20,000 for her second-place win and Macy Miles, who won third place and $10,000.  Seibert will sell her paddle and sail watersports products in the Virgin Islands and U.S. mainland. Miles will create an online shopping business designed to allow people living abroad to get products that would be unavailable to them without her website.

This year, UVI’s 13D program expanded to host a territory wide high school competition. Antilles School Freshman Jonathan Woods became the first winner. He received $1,000 to help start Rock City Hydro, a soil-less home garden company.

“One of the most inspiring things about the entrepreneurship competition is watching the participants develop throughout the competition into serious business people,” says Dr. Metts. “Many of the proposals in the early stages are kind of rough but as the competition continues their proposals improve and the competitive juices flow.”

“The final round was very tough and all the other teams had improved their business proposals a lot,” says Myint. “It was so challenging and exciting on the day of the final round.”

Dr. Metts says he is very impressed with the competitors this year. “The 2013 13D Student Entrepreneurship Competition winners are very well prepared to be successful,” he says. “I fully expect that we will have at least three business startups from the final eight teams that competed in the final round in May. As we add more entrepreneurship programs at the University this competition is only going to get better.”

UVI’s Ambassador - Miss UVI: More Than a Pretty Face

Murchtricia Charles will represent UVI at HBCU Hall of Fame competition …
Four years ago Murchtricia Charles realized that one day she would compete in the Miss UVI Ambassadorial Competition. Throughout her life Charles has been in one competition or another, from pageants to speech competitions and debates. In 2009, she witnessed her brother, Ahmad Z Fashions President Jamal Drumond, assisting Carice Glasgow prepare for the Miss UVI ambassadorial competition. Glasgow went on to win the crown in 2009.

“Since I was four, I have been doing pageants and things like that where the best dress can help you win,” says Charles, who entered the competition knowing that it was more than just another pageant.  “With Miss UVI being an ambassadorial competition, I saw the work that you have to put into it.  The work I had to put into my beauty pageants is nothing compared to what I had to put into Miss UVI.”  Charles had to thoroughly learn about UVI and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Winning Miss UVI means more to her than any other competition of its kind she says. “It is something that I really worked for,” says Charles. “I used my mind – not just my smile.”

On the night of the competition she did not know if she would win. She juggled preparing for Miss UVI with classes, research and preparing for a competitive research internship program. When she was announced the winner, all Charles could do to keep from crying was to laugh. “It was just an overwhelming experience,” Charles says. “It was truly an out-of-body experience.”

Drumond, who was also Charles’ chaperone, could not be prouder of his little sister. “I am ecstatic,” he says. “I couldn’t wish or ask for someone else to call my younger sister. She is so determined to achieve whatever she puts her mind to.” 

Drumond says he firmly believes that her personal interview, experience, talent and confidence on stage made her Miss UVI win possible.

Charles has been enjoying her role as UVI’s ambassador. She participated in the St. Thomas Carnival parade soon after winning and is currently in New Jersey enrolled in the Research in Science Engineering (RISE) Internship Program. “I love math,” says Charles, who is a junior majoring in mathematics and computational biology. “I am doing a type of research that I have never done before as well as computer science and computational chemistry,” says Charles.  “It is really broadening my horizons to what I want to do for my Ph.D.”

One of Miss UVI’s duties is to represent UVI at the HBCU Hall of Fame competition, which will be held in Atlanta on Sept. 25. She will compete against at least 35 other contestants representing HBCU’s throughout the nation. “I am looking forward to not only meeting all of the girls and meeting new people when I get there, but also having people embrace the University of the Virgin Islands and putting our name out there,” Charles says. “That’s my purpose. I am an ambassador.”

A love of education for youth is what motivates Charles. Born on St. Croix, she firmly believes that students need to be properly prepared to enter college with sufficient skills to take higher level math courses. “There are a lot of students that graduate from high school in the Virgin Islands and they don’t have the ability to solve problems that they should be able to solve when entering an institution of higher learning, which is not their fault.” She says it is necessary for us as a community to get together and prepare them to enter an institution of higher learning. She is currently a tutor in the Peer Led Team Learning program.

  After earning a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, she plans to continue her education and receive a doctorate in computational biology and molecular biophysics. “My major goal is to come back to the Virgin Islands and open a STEM preparatory school,” Charles says. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and Mathematics. She says the school will prepare students for post-secondary education.

Wellness Becoming a Priority at UVI

It’s a few minutes past 1 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon and three UVI employees are working out at the UVI Wellness Center, a ...
It’s a few minutes past 1 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon and three UVI employees are working out at the UVI Wellness Center, a fourth has just finished her workout, showered and is heading back to the office. The fact that UVI employees are now using their lunch hour to workout makes Lorenzo Donastorg overjoyed. Donastorg is the coordinator of the Wellness Center. The 6,250 square foot center on St. Thomas has an aerobics and dance studio with a sprung-wood floor, and a fitness equipment room with weight training and cardiovascular equipment. When Donastorg joined the University three years ago – getting people into the center, yet alone during their lunch hour, was a hard sell. The biggest excuse – time. “People were fixed on that,” Donastorg says. “What I tell people is that even 20 minutes is better than nothing.” That thought is catching on. Now, when Donastorg runs into employees working out on their lunch hour, he has to contain his excitement. “I don’t want my enthusiasm to scare people,” he says with a laugh, although he makes a point of greeting and encouraging all members.

Donastorg has seen membership in all categories at the Wellness Center increase, and is quick to share the success. “It’s not just me. I’m not doing this by myself,” he says. “It’s not a one-person battle. We are doing this together,” he adds, referring to UVI’s Wellness Committee. The committee was formed partly in response to the UVI Strategic Plan goal to “improve employee wellness across the University,” and partly in response to a goal of the Virgin Islands Government to improve employee health and reduce health insurance costs.

“The Virgin Islands Government (VIG) can no longer sustain health insurance (costs),” explains UVI’s Interim Human Resources Director Veda Richards. The paradigm must shift from disease management to improving wellness, Richards says. The Government Employees Service Commission (GESC) Group Health Insurance Board oversees the operation of government employees’ health and other benefit plans. The board formed a Wellness Committee to assist in changing employees thinking in regards to health management. They began with campaigns to get people to think healthier, says Richards, who is an associate member of the GESC board. According to Richards, the cost of health insurance for UVI is $4 million per year. This figure includes the employee premium cost. CIGNA, the VIG’s health insurance carrier, has committed $200,000 per year over the next five years to the VIG’s Wellness Committee’s initiatives, Richards says.

The first initiative was the “Healthy Baby, Healthy Child” campaign in 2011, that provided tips to pregnant women to increase chances of having healthy babies. The second was a Wellness Expo in 2012, where attendees were offered free biometric screenings. Richards explains that participants were encouraged to “know their numbers” – blood pressure, body mass index, waist circumference – a first step in managing health. The third initiative was the “10,000 Steps a Day” campaign in 2013, which was geared to increasing heart health.

“Studies show that if individuals take 10,000 steps per day they are more apt to having a healthy heart,” Richards says. Participants received pedometers to measure their steps and were required to log on daily to a website to record their steps. Approximately 300 UVI employees registered for the program, however; 175 employees actively participated in the eight- week program on both campuses. Richards says the results were positive.

Neville Williams, on the St. Thomas campus, tallied an amazing 1,652,577 steps! On St. Thomas the two other top steppers were Sharlene Harris with 660,360 steps and Joy Harrigan with 559,915 steps. On the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix, the top stepper was Myrtle Pemberton with 660,132. Marcia Taylor came in second with 568,095 and David Capriola came in third with 531,521. The top three steppers on each campus have received arrays of gifts, including an iPod, gym-in-a-bag, Panini grill and digital jump rope.

Donastorg piggy-backed on the “10,000 Steps a Day” campaign launching a month-long “Aerobics Challenge” two weeks after the “10,000 Steps a Day” campaign began. It involved an e-mail campaign that mass-mailed fitness facts and tips to UVI employees. Donastorg’s challenge was two-fold: to get participants to meet their goal of 10,000 steps per day and to get them into the Wellness Center. Nineteen people signed up for the challenge – some were employees, but the group also included students, alumni and senior citizens. “Everyone from the Aerobics Challenge kept asking me for a next challenge,” Donastorg says. The next challenge, this time for two months, will roll out in August, he says. Four hundred dollars in prize money – provided solely from Donastorg’s personal funds – are up for grabs.

The VIG’s Wellness Committee has upcoming campaigns in the works. A 24-hour Zumba Marathon is being planned for the summer. Other ideas for 2013 include a swim challenge, tennis carnival, diabetic challenge and body mass index (BMI) challenge. In 2014, the VIG’s Wellness Committee will focus on healthy eating. Richards says that CIGNA anticipates reduced health care costs after a five-year cycle. But Donastorg emphasizes that results to individuals come much quicker. A participant in his Aerobics Challenge lost 14 pounds in one month. Those are results you can see and feel.

UVI Captures its History in “Proud We Are”

Golden Jubilee historical publication on sale in UVI Bookstores.
In celebration of the University of the Virgin Islands’ 50th Anniversary Jubilee, the University commissioned the creation of “Proud We Are, The History of the University of the Virgin Islands, 1962 – 2012.” This 104 page book encapsulates UVI’s creation, growth and accomplishments – complete with 300 historical photos. The book was written by Dr. Erika Waters, professor emeritus and former editor of “The Caribbean Writer.” It was designed by Quilin Mars, former assistant editor of “The Caribbean Writer.”

 “Now, at last, UVI has an historical archive, both photographic and factual,” says Dr. Waters. “Readers will now know of the political struggle that went into the University’s founding, for example, and see, for the first time, photos of all the Miss UVI Queens together in one chapter. Readers will, undoubtedly, take pride in the University’s impressive half-century of progress, but I hope they will also recognize old friends and colleagues and recall many fond memories.”

The creation of “Proud We Are” was a labor of love. Waters contacted several individuals from the past 50 years to request photos, corroborate facts and solicit quotations. She says she struggled to get all the names and the details of the history right. “In the end over 80 individuals, representing the entire university community contributed to this book,” says Dr. Waters. “It quite simply couldn't have been done without them. Quilin Mars outdid herself.” She says “she took over when the original graphic designer resigned for personal reasons, and she did an amazing job.”

 The book focuses on several important points in UVI’s history. It captures UVI’s creation, the transition from the College of the Virgin Islands to UVI, the creation of various facilities, the effects of natural disasters on the University, UVI’s Queens and the direction each president took the University.

“It is so unique and interesting,” says Interim Dean of College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Dr. Simon Jones-Hendrickson, co-chair of the Golden Jubilee Operations committee and UVI professor of economics. “For those of us that were students and are now faculty members it really captures the whole history.” He says that for persons that were not around, it allows them to know where they come from. “I think it is a good first start in the history of this institution,” says Dr. Jones-Hendrickson, who has many hopes for UVI’s future. In the next five years, he wants UVI to have two doctoral programs, a greater presence on St. Croix, a more in-depth online presence, more memorandums of understanding with schools in the Eastern Caribbean and wants more local students to attend UVI. “I am happy about what I see,” says Dr. Jones-Hendrickson. “I am happy that I spent all the time here. I have been a part of this institution and it has been a part of me.”

Dr. Jones-Hendrickson wants UVI to continue to change in a positive way. “I think to a large extent if we are not changing we are static,” he says. “If you’re static it means you are not growing and that is not very good at all.” Dr. Jones-Hendrickson says continued change is necessary, but it must be change that is critical to the growth in the region and be sensible change.

Editor’s Note: “Proud We Are” is available at the University of the Virgin Islands’ Bookstores on both campuses. Call (340) 693-1561 on the St. Thomas Campus or (340) 693-4162 on the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix to reserve you copy today. 

Hall, Laurencin Share President for a Day Experience

Senior Marsha Laurencin swaps roles with President Hall for a day …
Editor's note: Laurencin is UVI's first President for a Day. She swapped roles with UVI President Dr. David Hall for one day so that each could gain a different perspective. The next President for a Day role reversal will be held on UVI's Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix.

Last President’s Day, University of the Virgin Islands Biology major Marsha Laurencin awoke early, donned a trendy skirt suit and got into her four door sedan. She drove down to UVI, a drive she had taken many times over the last three years attending classes. But instead of hustling off to an 8 a.m. organic chemistry class, she pulled into the UVI president’s reserved parking space and headed to the president’s office to begin her day as UVI’s President for a Day.

Laurencin stepped into her office. Waiting for her were Executive Assistant to the President Una Dyer and Chief of Staff Dr. Noreen Michael. Laurencin’s schedule was packed. She had meetings with UVI’s Student Government Association, a board of trustees member, the vice president of Institutional Advancement, the director of the Reichhold Center for the Arts and, the most highly anticipated meeting on her schedule, a session with UVI’s top administrative team – the President’s Cabinet. “I was nervous about their opinion – how it would turn out,” Laurencin says. “It was great. The feedback I got from the cabinet was great.”

The cabinet meeting was especially important to her as she hoped the board would pass a proposal that is close to her heart. As an organic chemistry intern, Laurencin is passionate about projects that aim to preserve the environment. She proposed that UVI create a Composting and Campus Sustainability Project.

Laurencin says she learned much from being president for a day, including that the job is not a one man show. She adds, “I did expect back-to-back meetings with presidential staff, making important decisions for the University, but my actual experience involved more work than I thought and was more intense than I imagined.”

Student: David Hall

UVI President Dr. David Hall thought he was prepared to step into the shoes of a student. Then his wife, acting as his parent, asked if he had sheets, a pillowcase and towels for his room. “Don’t they provide that,” he asks. He got another bag and put those things together. “It dawned on me, because its been awhile, students have to bring a lot of stuff,” says Dr. Hall.  Then he realized that with an 8 a.m. class and room orientation at 10 a.m., he had no way to get his bags to his room. So he did as many students do, he asked his wife, now acting as his parent, to do that.

“That early experience before even arriving made me feel like I really am a student,” he says. “I am having some of the nervousness that students have. I think that really shapes the day.”

Now he was almost ready to take on the role of a student and walk uphill to his 8 a.m. organic chemistry class. He wore a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. Hall donned his headphones and grabbed his backpack.   
 “I was very nervous about being late for class that morning,” says President Hall who planned to leave his home at 7:30 a.m. to walk uphill to UVI’s upper campus. “I just knew it was going to take me 30 minutes. I really got there in 10 minutes. Though our campus has a lower campus and an upper campus, I realized the St. Thomas Campus is more compact than I realized and students can navigate pretty well.”
Satisfied that he was early for the teleconferenced advanced chemistry class, Dr. Hall was ready to get into his role as a student… until the lesson began. “The major challenge was organic chemistry,” he says. “I did not know what was going on.”
Dr. Hall adds, “The class was well taught and was well organized. The students there were very much engaged in the class.”
He listed the most challenging experiences of his day in order as organic chemistry, Zumba and video games. As part of the President for a Day swap, Dr. Hall spent the night in West Residence Hall. “My suite mates at night in the residence hall invited me to play video games,” said Dr. Hall. “I don’t play video games. It really was a challenge. I was losing badly. It was clear that they were having joy.” He says many students came into the residence hall and he feels this reflects the comradery among UVI students. “I was so proud of our students,” says Dr. Hall. “We have some wonderful students.”
Dr. Hall and Laurencin shared their President for a Day role reversal experience in a follow-up session in West Residence Hall that was teleconferenced to both UVI’s campuses and the St. John Academic Center. It was also heard via live broadcast on the student-run radio station WUVI 1090.
“I felt like a new student and had all of the nervous anxiety that new students have,” said Dr. Hall recalling his experience. “Will anybody talk with me? Will anybody allow me to sit with them? How will I become a part? And students just reached out to me in such a warm thoughtful way from the organic chemistry class to the study group. I was no longer alone and that felt wonderful.”
President Laurencin
Laurencin says she enjoyed her President for a Day experience. “I just felt that initially it was a great idea, to bridge the gap between students and the University administration and also I was attracted to the learning scholarship opportunities because it provided privileged exposure,” says Laurencin.
Visit UVI’s YouTube channel to see highlights of UVI’s first President for a Day experience.