Friday, September 2, 2016

Ph.D. Candidates to Fulfill Advance Degree Dreams at UVI

UVI Celebrates History Making Program
UVI's first Ph.D. cohort poses with administrators and faculty. 
Ron Meek stood among 50 doctoral candidates ready to embark on UVI’s first Ph.D. program in Creative Leadership for Innovation and Change. It was a goal he had set for himself while working at another university where he was also a doctor of education candidate for educational administration.

“I was four classes and a dissertation away from my degree when I got sidetracked by dirt bike racing,” Meek said at a welcome reception for Ph.D. candidates on Sunday, Aug. 21, at the President’s Guest House. “It was a passion I shared with my sons, which at the time seemed like a lot more fun than academic scholarship,” said Meek. “But it always bothered me to have left that goal unfinished.”

Meek, now director of Human Resources and Organizational Development for the University of the Virgin Islands, is looking forward to being among the students to join the first cohort of UVI’s first Ph.D. program to fulfill his longstanding dream of earning a doctoral degree.

Ron Meek
“When UVI’s first Ph.D. program emerged, offering the perfect opportunity for me to resume my study of leadership in service learning, I got excited,” said Meek. “I’ve always been drawn to the idea of education that can stimulate individual growth and the common good at the same time.”

The candidates, a diverse group of life-long Virgin Islanders, U.S. mainlanders, international students from around the Caribbean and beyond, shared personal stories of the journey that brought them to UVI’s Ph.D. Program.

“Earning a Ph.D. was always something that I wanted to do,” said Charmaine Mayers, a St. Thomas native, who earned her Masters of Arts Degree in Business Administration from UVI and is currently the federal grants coordinator for the Virgin Islands Department of Health. “But I had a daughter and I wanted to put a lot of energy into getting her through school. Finally she has her degree in engineering, and the time has come around again for me to do me.” Mayers is eager to start the program’s Organizational Development and Leadership track.

UVI Alumnus David Cannonier, a police sergeant for the Virgin Islands Police Department who also teaches psychology at UVI, as well as at the police academy, shared his enthusiasm about joining the program’s Educational Leadership (ELC) for Change Track. “I am here because Dr. Frank Mills, who was my master’s thesis advisor, advised me that this was something I should do,” said Cannonier. “This is the only University I have ever attended, and I just feel so proud and happy to be part of this inaugural class.”

UVI Provost Dr. Camille McKayle stands with Ph.D. candidate at opening and welcome ceremony.

UVI alumnus Timothy Hodge, who is from the island of Anguilla, has sent two of his daughters to UVI and was mildly startled to find himself back on campus. “When Dr. Maddirala came to Anguilla and put the application form in front of me, I signed it,” he said. “My mother always told me that I should get my Ph.D., and now I am.”

Kenisha Thompson is a consultant for Humana and an adjunct professor at Ottawa University who currently lives in Louisville, Ky. According to Thompson, she had been looking into graduate programs in innovation for the past four years. She chose UVI for her doctoral work despite being recruited by Purdue and Indiana University when she saw that a fellow Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) was launching a program. “My family is full of HBCU graduates,” she said. “I graduated from Spelman in 2003. My brother went to Tuskegee and Howard. HBCU’s run all through the family. So when I did a little bit of research and saw what this program had to offer, I tweeted Provost McKayle. She tweeted me right back and that’s how I became one of your classmates.”

The development and launch of UVI’s Ph.D. program in Creative Leadership for Innovation and Change was, as UVI President David Hall pointed out in his welcoming remarks, itself an act of creative leadership for innovation and change. President Hall and the Board of Trustees had already determined that the creation of a Ph.D. program was inevitable for the University; but in what area? After attending a powerful conference on creative leadership, Dr. Hall became convinced that – given the territory’s need for a new generation of strong and insightful leaders who possessed the skills to drive positive social and economic change – creative leadership would be the perfect interdisciplinary field for UVI’s first Ph.D. program in which not just one, but all departments could participate.

UVI Provost Dr. Camille McKayle speaks at welcome reception.
Dr. Hall met with UVI Provost Dr. Camille McKayle, who received the idea with great enthusiasm. She then recruited Dr. James Maddirala, associate provost for global, graduate and academic affairs, who gladly stepped up to become the primary architect of the program. Together, Dr. McKayle and Dr. Maddirala reached out to other institutions, eventually finding partners in Buffalo State University and Fielding Graduate University for the first Ph.D. of its kind. But, Dr. Maddirala declared, it would not be the last. “Nowhere else in the world have three institutions come together to create a program like this,” he said. “Now that it has been done, it can be done again in India, Brazil and China. If we all stay here and work really hard, UVI can be a global university.”

“Just think for a moment about how much we read in the newspaper and on social media about the need for stronger creative leaders,” said Dr. Orlando L. Taylor, vice president for Strategic Initiatives and Research at Fielding Graduate University. “But many people have not taken the time to look at the fact that strong leaders have strong preparation.” Dr. Taylor continued, “They have not focused on the fact that there is an art, a science, and a set of best practices associated with leadership. And so the pursuit of this Ph.D. – and at Fielding we talk about the scholar/practitioner – is a journey where you all will attempt to link scholarship and theory with practice so that you can do things like change the world, change society, change organizations, and change local communities.”

“We are going to focus on leadership for a diverse world, a global world, a multi-cultural world, and that is what makes this program so very special,” he said.

Ph.D. candidates Rhea Beckett and Monica Rae speak at welcome reception.
“Be the change you want to see in the world,” said Gerard Puccio, department chair and professor at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State University, quoting Mahatma Gandhi. “I honestly believe that the world would be a better place if we had more creative leaders. Imagination conquers fear, and because of that I see all of you as pioneers. This is a historic evening.”

A substantial portion of the degree requirements for UVI’s doctoral program is completed at a distance, but residencies are required each semester. The program is unique in that traditional classrooms and lectures have been replaced with flexible workstations and master practitioners who will work with adult learners as peers. During the weeklong residency sessions, students will connect with the game-changers of a global world to jointly explore possible futures and exciting ideas. For more information visit: