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.”