Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Nontraditional Student Earns Master of Arts Degree; Accomplishes Lifelong Goal

Left to Right: Sherma Albert-Ferdinand, Dr. David Hall, Robert A. Beck and Juliette Heddad-Mille

Robert Beck, originally from Southern California, was among the first three students to graduate from the University of the Virgin Islands after earning the new Master of Arts Degree in School Counseling and Guidance. This program grew out of the Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in guidance and school counseling.

“It feels like a really big accomplishment,” said Beck. “To finally have both degrees offers a great sense of closure and opportunity.”

Beck chose to retire to the U.S. Virgin Islands after serving more than 43 years as a railroad worker and union officer who represented and counseled co-workers, because UVI invites senior citizens to take classes for free. He barely graduated from high school and did not think of himself as college material. Nevertheless, his interests in literature and history inspired him to find a junior college without entrance requirements.

Beck started taking college courses and immediately excelled, which led him to believe that he was either a late bloomer, the presentation of high school material had been ineffective for his learning style, that he had received defective counseling – or all of the above. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) after completing one last English class at UVI. In 2007 he started to take classes at UVI in multiple subjects while mentoring fellow students. He discovered while doing independent studies with professors in marketing and history that he had the ability to do academic research.

Later, when a beloved professor encouraged him to pursue a master’s degree, he chose the Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in Guidance and School Counseling. Even though he had no background in education, he had a strong interest in psychology and counseling. He also thought that he might be helpful to youngsters who could benefit from the attention of a caring and insightful adult.

“I enjoy being retired and am not looking to work full-time,” said Beck. “But I do plan to volunteer, and am pleased with the preparation I received through both degree programs.” Beck continued, “I look forward to working with and hopefully inspiring young people who don’t see futures for themselves in which higher education plays a role. I didn’t think I could go to college, but I did. I could do it, I know they can, too.”

The other two students who earned the new 48 hour degree are already gainfully employed by the public school system on St. Croix. Juliette Heddad Miller is the assistant principal at Ricardo Elementary School. Sherma Albert-Ferdinand is a high school counselor at the St. Croix Educational Complex.

The Master of Arts in School Counseling and Guidance is a rigorous program designed to prepare aspiring school counselors to become strong and effective leaders, capable of facing challenges in a changing world. The program provides students with professional and pedagogical knowledge and skills in core requirements, and a solid content knowledge in the area of school counseling and guidance. Individual courses are aligned with the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) standards, thus ensuring that the program represents a synthesis of content and experiences required for successful practice.

The new program also allows students to take the same CACREP approved courses that are offered through colleges and universities on the U.S. mainland, guaranteeing that the degree is at the same level of those offered in the United States. As the program meets the requirements for CACREP accreditation, UVI can now choose to submit an application for CACREP approval.

The new degree creates competitiveness with similar programs offered elsewhere, mandates a higher entry level salary and opens up more job opportunities. It also qualifies graduates to take the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) National Counseling Examination as a first step to becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), which Beck just did.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

UVI Entrepreneur Poised to Hit the Ground Running

Aron A. Gumbs
(Aron A. Gumbs, St. Thomas Campus; Hospitality and Tourism Management)

Aron A. Gumbs is not just about to graduate from the University of the Virgin Islands. He is about to graduate with $10,000 in start-up capital to launch King Events, the mobile event and wedding planning service that he created and subsequently developed within the 13D Entrepreneurship program and competition that started last fall. He placed third in the competition, which earned him the $10,000 that will soon be used to jump-start King Events.

Originally from Anguilla, Gumbs confessed that when he was looking at colleges, his dream location was Las Vegas. But the costs were too high so he settled for the University of the Virgin Islands, figuring that he would stay two years and then transfer. Because the Hospitality and Tourism program allowed him to follow his passion, and because a significant portion of his education unfolded through hands-on internships that allowed him to hone his skills and make great contacts at the same time, he eventually saw no reason to leave.

“It has been wonderful to learn in and out of the classroom,” said Gumbs. “Because of my summer internship experiences at Black Orchid Florist and Events and Ani Villas on Anguilla, and at International Capital Management Company (ICMC)’s concierge and property management division on St. Thomas, I got to experience what it felt like to truly be in my zone.” Gumbs continued, “I also made so many contacts through my program and these jobs that I have new clients even before King Events has officially launched.”

King Events will be a mobile business, existing without a storefront but with a large vehicle in which Gumbs will be able to transport numerous samples to event and wedding planning house calls. This will allow him to be very flexible, which is important as highly customized events are to be the cornerstone of the business. Gumbs is not yet sure whether St. Thomas or Anguilla will function as a home base for his company, but he expects to work internationally as his company grows. He feels indebted to UVI, he said, for preparing him for a bright future in which he has the luxury of earning a living by doing what he most loves.

A Graduate Who Leaves a Legacy

Alphea Browne
(Alphea Browne, St. Thomas Campus; Accounting)

Alphea Browne, an accounting major from St. Kitts, is not only about to graduate summa cum laude from UVI on the St. Thomas Campus, she is also preparing to leave a legacy. Having realized that there was a great opportunity for students involved with professional associations while at The Washington Center for Internships and Seminars last fall, she spearheaded an initiative to reactivate the National Association of Black Accounts (NABA), and the National Association of States Board of Accountancy Students Centre for Public Trust (NASBA Student CPT) at the University of the Virgin Islands.

“When students become members of professional organizations, they gain access to all sorts of information about scholarships, internships and job opportunities,” said Browne. “I feel happy and proud of the achievement. But I’d feel even happier if I was sure the organization would remain up and running after I leave.” Browne continued, “It will be a lot of responsibility for the student who steps in to fill my executive position, but it’s definitely worth it. If your college is not an active member of NABA or some other comparable organization, it puts you at a big disadvantage in terms of being nationally and internationally competitive.”

While a student, she interned at Central Union Mission in Washington D.C. and at Domino’s Pizza Inc. Corporate Headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She also served as a Thurgood Marshall College Fund Student Ambassador for 2016-2017, and as a Resident Assistant from 2015 – 2017.

Browne has several good job prospects on the horizon thanks to the excellent professional network she cultivated during her time as an undergraduate. She said she is excited to leave behind the student life as she embarks on the next phase of her journey in which she will join a community of business professionals among whom she has already established numerous connections. Browne also feels profoundly grateful to UVI not just for the fine education she received, but also for the empowerment and mentoring that have prepared her for a promising career.

“UVI has helped me to clarify exactly what I want to do,” she said. “It also helped me build a great professional network filled with connections and references through a variety of internships, revamping NABA, and launching the NASBA Student CPT on campus.” Browne continued, “I also want to credit my advisor, Dr. Dion Gows, who has become a true mentor to me. I know that our relationship will continue long after I leave this University.”

Browne will begin preparing for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensing exam shortly after graduation. She is currently in the process of deciding where she wants to live and work, but is open to a variety of national and international possibilities that include St. Thomas and her home island of St. Kitts.

First Tubist to Graduate from UVI Pursues Educational Leadership Role

Erick Willie
(Erick Willie, Albert A. Sheen Campus; Master of Arts in Educational Leadership)

Erick Willie, the first tubist to graduate from the University of the Virgin Islands with a Bachelor of Arts in Music Education, immediately put his degree to use upon graduating in 2014. He started to teach music at Arthur Richards Junior High School on St. Croix, and has been introducing youngsters to the joys of band, choral and Quellbe music for the last three and a half years.

Willie derives great satisfaction from working in the classroom, but knew that he wanted to be involved with shaping the direction of public education, particularly with regard to incorporating the arts into the core academic curriculum So he returned to UVI for a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership. He will graduate on May 11, on the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix.

“The biggest challenge for me was finding a balance between being a student again, and being a teacher,” said Willie. “But the program was exceptional, and I was able to do an internship with the administrators at my school, which enabled me to see what a principal really does. Based on that experience, I definitely want to pursue educational administration and leadership. There’s such a huge need for initiatives like band that will raise school pride, and get students to feel enthusiastic about learning.”

Willie himself was first exposed to music as a junior high school student who went on to become a valued member of the band at the St. Croix Educational Complex. He started out as a trumpet player, but when the band director said that tuba players were needed, Willie volunteered. He fell in love with the instrument. He had always dreamed of becoming a teacher, and was excited to learn that UVI would allow him to merge his two passions by training to become a music teacher.

“A lot of people have asked me why I didn’t go to study in the states,” said Willie. “I reply by asking them why I would want to study in the states when I can attend a school right here in the Virgin Islands that produces the best of the best.” Willie continued, “A lot of people overlook UVI, and that is a mistake. This university has helped me to develop as a musician and as an educator. Through both programs I’ve learned so many strategies that I’ve been able to implement in the classroom. And I had a great time doing it.”
Erik Willie and Kevin Dixon

21 Year Journey From Teen Mom to College Graduate

Andrea Brathwaite
(Andrea Brathwaite, Albert A. Sheen Campus; Information Systems and Technology)

Andrea Brathwaite, a 39 year-old mother of six, started her journey toward a college degree from the University of the Virgin Islands 21 years ago, in 1996. Back then, she said, she was a teenaged mom whose parents valued education and were nevertheless prepared to pay for her education. But she wasn’t ready. Shortly after she started classes, she dropped out to raise her son.

Her first child led to a second, and a third, until eventually she was the mother of six. It wasn’t easy. In addition to the overwhelming work and expense associated with raising a large family while holding down a demanding full-time job as a para professional at Ricardo Richards Elementary School, Brathwaite faced a number of challenges that included the deaths of her father and half-sister; an accident in which she sustained numerous first and second degree burns; and a seemingly endless series of financial struggles. Throughout everything, however, she clung to her dream of one day earning a university degree.

Brathwaite returned to UVI several times over the ensuing years, but was always thwarted by a lack of time and money. Nevertheless, when she attended the graduation of a good friend and co-worker who had gone to UVI to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher, Brathwaite had an epiphany. During the ceremony, a nursing student was being honored for pushing through her studies and completing her degree even as she was being treated for cancer.

“I realized right then and there that if this woman could do it, I could too,” said Brathwaite. “I’m alive. I’m healthy. There’s no reason why I can’t do this.”

And so she did. With assistance and encouragement from a mighty support system that included her mother, sisters and significant other; her co-workers and friends; and eventually a growing network of professors and staff at UVI, she leaned into the completion of a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Systems and Technology. The journey has been a challenging one, just as Brathwaite suspected it would be, but her determination and persistence have earned her a consistent place on the Dean’s List since 2014, and very soon she will graduate on St. Croix with the Emerald Jubilee Class of 2017.

“I felt really excited today as I picked up my invitations,” said Brathwaite. “It’s been a struggle, but there have been so many professors that kept encouraging me. I was very fortunate to attend such an amazing and supportive institution.”

Class of 2017 Celebrates Commencement Amid Themes of “Rising Up”

(Left to Right: President David Hall, Keynote Speaker Iyanla Vanzant,
Honorary Degree Recipient Ruth Elma Thomas) 

The University of the Virgin Islands Class of 2017 took their first steps into the future at Commencement Ceremonies, which were held on May 11, on St. Croix, and on May 12, in the Sports and Fitness Center on the St. Thomas Campus. Themes of rising up and persevering in the face of adversity were embedded in every aspect of the event from President David Hall’s welcome, to Iyanla Vanzant’s keynote address, to Monel Marcellin’s class speaker remarks, to select interviews with students and alums. “

Keynote Speaker, Iyanla Vanzant
The thought that got me through college as a single mother on welfare with three children by three different fathers was that there is nothing to fear,” said Keynote Speaker Iyanla Vanzant, a commanding author, inspirational speaker, television personality and healer of people. “Fear comes from what you tell yourself about yourself, and whether or not you believe it. Fear can hold you back, but only if you let it.”

Vanzant, who helps people by encouraging them to engage in deliberate thinking, shared a narrative of her personal history peppered with insightful and amusing anecdotes. She then suggested to the graduates that they tackle the future by arming themselves with a kind of personal intelligence apparatus. But in the world according to Vanzant, CIA stands not for Central Intelligence Agency, but rather for Character, Integrity and Appreciation.

“Developing your unique character means making sure that what you do is in line with who you are,” she said. “Integrity is about making sure that what you think, feel, do and say are all in alignment. Do what you know is right even when nobody is looking.” Vanzant continued, “Appreciate yourself, along with those who came before you who endured horrible things so that you could be here today. Appreciate your parents. Whoever they are, they did the best they could.”

Toward the end of her masterful and inspiring address, Vanzant encouraged the class of 2017 to wake up every morning knowing that they had the opportunity to make a new choice. She urged them to “… get focused, get purposeful, claim it, and speak it as though it is.”

President David Hall
President Hall’s welcome address focused on the idea of three magical rivers flowing together in 2017 – the 100th anniversary of the Virgin Islands as a US territory; the 55th anniversary of UVI; and the four-year journey of the class of 2017 – all contributing to a fertile landscape in which these graduates, like the University itself, will continue to rise up despite challenges and disappointments; hardships and losses. So it was with fitting continuity that shortly after being introduced by Dr. Hall, Monel Marcellin, the class speaker on the St. Thomas Campus, shared the stories of several classmates who’d managed to earn degrees despite unplanned pregnancies, abject poverty, family separations and other privations.

Marcellin, who was accepted by six law schools, invoked the famous Mother Teresa quote to support her pride and ongoing faith in her classmates, and in herself: “To those who have done so much with so little for so long, you are now qualified to do anything with nothing.”

St. Thomas Class Speaker Monel Marcellin
Marcellin went on to thank the UVI faculty and staff, along with family members and friends of the graduates, for “believing in us when we could not believe in ourselves.” She expressed gratitude about having been invited to “step outside her comfort zone” so that she and her classmates could “celebrate being alive and present.”

In closing, Marcellin suggested to her classmates that they use their cell phone cameras to focus on what is important; capture the moment; and develop the things that you wish to carry into the next phase of your journey. She then said to the class of 2017: “We have brains in our heads and feet in our shoes. After today, we can go anywhere we want.”

The UVI Class of 2017 are all extraordinary products of a unique journey. Select the following links to read a few inspiring stories that offer some insight into the character of that cohort, and into the great diversity and resilience of the student body at large.

21 Year Journey From Teen Mom to College Graduate

First Tubist to Graduate from UVI Pursues Educational Leadership Role

A Graduate Who Leaves a Legacy

UVI Entrepreneur Poised to Hit the Ground Running

Dr. Frank Mills (center)
Commencement exercises are a time to embrace the future, but they also provide an opportunity to recognize the past. Specially honored this year are members of the Class of 1967 who are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their graduation from the College of the Virgin Islands. Culled from this cohort are two of UVI’s most distinguished professors, Dr. Frank L. Mills and Dr. Simon B. Jones-Hendrickson. Following graduation, both men – originally from St. Kitts – left the Territory to earn advanced degrees but chose to return and settle into long and rewarding careers as educators and researchers.

Dr. Mills, currently the interim vice provost of the Eastern Caribbean Center Provost’s Office of Research and Public Services, never imagined that he would teach at UVI for 45 years after earning graduate degrees in geology and quantitative methods from the University of Western Ontario and Clark University. But the work was so gratifying and the growth of the University so steady that he never saw a reason to leave.

“The most rewarding thing is not just that the institution has survived,” said Mills, “but that it has survived in a way that makes it outstanding.”

Dr. Mills shared a story about a gentleman from the U.S. mainland who publically lambasted the College of the Virgin Islands, calling it a white elephant that was so unlikely to succeed that funding it was a waste of money.

“It’s hugely satisfying to me that history has proved this guy dead wrong,” said Mills.

Having worked with five different presidents, Dr. Mills referred to President David Hall as a visionary, and praised his unbridled determination to pursue growth and innovation. “Dr. Hall is not afraid to change things on the front end in order to make things happen,” said Dr. Mills, who continues to enjoy working and is therefore in no hurry to retire.

Dr. Simon Jones-Hendrickson

Dr. Jones-Hendrickson, who taught economics at UVI for more than four decades before retiring, is also taken with the various ways in which the institution has grown and evolved. He remains intensely connected to the University, and was honored by President David Hall at the Third Annual Virgin Islands Literary Festival and Book Fair on April 21, 2017.

“Simon is a creative force, a prolific author, a counselor to world leaders and a beautiful man,” said Dr. Hall. “Just like the flamboyant tree that is the symbol of his native land, he stands apart but brings people together. This ‘lit-fest’ is one of his many creations, inspirations and lasting legacies.”

Given his background as an educator and thinker, Jones-Hendrickson is prone to expressing his affection for the things he cares about through reflecting about they could be made even better. Regarding UVI, he misses the 1960’s when the college was more international, and hopes that the University will be able to attract more international students, especially from around the Caribbean, going forward.

Jones-Hendrickson would also like to see more distinguished professor chairs, a center for economic development, a University Press, and an offering of classes in intellectual property rights. “Intellectual property constitutes nine to ten percent of the gross domestic product of most countries,” he said. “That could make a big difference for the Virgin Islands.”