Monday, June 17, 2019

UVI Class of 2019 Charged To Make the World a Better Place

Class Speaker Anayah Ferris on the St. Thomas Campus

Dare to be More Than you Have Imagined… 

The University of the Virgin Islands conferred degrees to over three hundred students at the annual 2019 Commencement Ceremonies which took place on Thursday, May 16, on the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix and on Friday, May 17, at the Sports and Fitness Center on St. Thomas.

Graduate on the St. Croix Campus
CNN political commentator, lawyer and former state legislator Bakari Sellers delivered the keynote address where he encouraged the graduates to acknowledge the shoulders on which they stand, noting that they are the seeds of dissent that have fallen into fertile soil

“You are living breathing examples that the age of miracles has not passed, that this is the land of opportunity even if you have to work longer and harder to find it,” Sellers said. “Remember you are the seeds of dissent fallen upon this fertile soil at this intersection of timing and training, you are the resilient, determined and phenomenal.”

In his charge to the graduates, Sellers urged the graduating Class of 2019 to be courageous, heroic, and hopeful.

“Don’t be afraid to be that ripple of change, because I’m looking for you to not just be heroes on the islands, but I’m looking for you to be heroes throughout this entire country,” Sellers said. “As you leave here today go with that knowledge and tradition that dares you to be more than you’ve ever imagined, and stand with audacious hope, stand proud and we will stand with you.”

Graduates on the St. Thomas Campus
UVI’s president Dr. David Hall told the graduates that it was up to them to use their degrees to make the world a better place.

“My charge is that you wake up the unenlightened and serve those who are alive to their calling, and make this world a better place, Dr. Hall said. “The degree you have just received is not just fancy words written on special parchment paper – it is a license, an oath for you to do something different in the world, it is a license and a mandate, to wake the dead and to serve the living.”

Christopher Michael Rosario, class speaker on the Albert A. Sheen Campus asked the graduates to celebrate their hard work and perseverance.

Class Speaker Christopher Rosario on the St. Croix Campus
“I know that the road here was not easy for many of us and that’s why we have to shout about our accomplishments here from every rooftop, from every mountain top, from every peak we eventually made. Today is our day,” Rosario said. “We may not know the story of what led us here nor do we know the story where do we go from here, what we know is through it all up until this point we have all persevered.”

Rosario challenged his peers to use their degree as a source of motivation when faced with difficult times in the future.

“We should be confident in our ability to overcome, look upon the paper we will receive today with great pride, and use it as a source of hope, whenever you reach a speedbump or pothole, that seems too daunting to go through,” Rosario said. “With our hard-work dedication and sleepless nights, even a few tears here and there we have earned this degree, our education is something that can never be taken from us let us cherish it and use it fruitfully.”

Graduates on the St. Thomas Campus

Anyah Ferris, class speaker on the St. Thomas Campus, reflected upon the strength and resilience of the graduates and the university during the past 619 days following the passage of hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Graduate on the St. Croix Campus
“We in this community has seen firsthand this process of rebuilding, 619 days ago the United States Virgin Islands was devasted by two category five hurricanes, for 619 days our communities were left shattered,” Ferris said. “I can honestly say I struggled to imagine our breakthrough, yet we are here today. The University of the Virgin Islands, stands as a beacon during this hardship, a symbol of second chances, and as a model of inevitable rise that can only be fostered through community resilience.”

UVI bestowed honorary degrees upon two prominent alumni - Cornel Williams and Dr. Simon Jones-Hendrickson. Cornel Williams received an honorary doctorate at the St. Thomas commencement ceremony and Dr. Simon Jones-Hendrickson, a former dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences received an honorary doctorate on St. Croix.

Commencement Ceremony - Albert A. Sheen Campus

Commencement Ceremony - St. Thomas Campus

Interesting graduate stories 

Samuel Liburd Jr.

Samuel Liburd Jr. An Ivy League Homegrown Success Story

As a teenager at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School (IEKHS), Samuel always knew that his passion for science would land him a career one day in medicine. The St. Johnian scholar received the Edmund Penn Scholarship, which funded his four-year journey at UVI. Liburd attributes his academic success in science to his father, who is a Biology teacher at the IEKHS.

With graduation imminent, Liburd recalls his first interaction with UVI as a recent high school graduate and participant in the Math Behind Science Program. It was in his first year at UVI that he decided that he wanted to pursue research. Subsequently, Liburd spent his sophomore summer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Summer Research Program in computational neuroscience, an experience which birthed a dream to complete a M.D.- Ph.D. program. Torn between his love for research and his childhood dreams of becoming a medical doctor, Liburd was sure that the M.D.-Ph.D. was the perfect way for him to complete both. Liburd returned to UVI the following Fall with renewed purpose.

An enthusiastic Liburd recalls his early preparation for applying for the M.D. Ph.D.

According to Liburd, “it was a tedious process that I began in May 2018.” It was during the recovery of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 that Liburd prepared for the MCAT exams. If there was ever a moment on this journey where Liburd felt overwhelmed it was at this time where he studied without electricity and internet while taking an overload of credits and juggling classes.
Graduate on the St. Thomas Campus

After earning top MCAT scores, Liburd applied to about 20 universities, he was interviewed by eight of these schools including, the University of Maryland, Emory University, and Mayo Clinic’s M.D.-Ph.D. programs. In Fall 2019, after earning a Bachelor's of Science in Biology from UVI, Liburd will matriculate at Yale University to complete a M.D.- Ph.D. focusing on biomedical engineering, tissue engineering and regeneration for medical use, 3D tissue printing and engineering.

An overjoyed Liburd says he is happy he stuck to his goal as it is a great feeling to be accepted into the program.

“After all, I went through preparing and applying for these programs I knew that if I could survive this, I could survive my M.D.-Ph.D.,” Liburd said. “These universities are really competitive with acceptance rates below 10 percent, many students do research and publish first before applying, I didn’t have any of that but thankfully I still got in.”


Vernosha Henry, left and Natasha Henry, right

Natasha and Vernosha Henry: Sisterly Success 

Vernosha and Natasha Henry are both graduating on the Albert A. Sheen Campus with Bachelor of Science in Nursing. They are a part of the second cohort of students to do so. 

Vernosha’s journey at UVI was not like many of her peers. She did so while being a first-time single mother.

According to Vernosha, “it was difficult, I missed many of my son’s milestones,” Vernosha said. “I woke up early at mornings and hopscotched between my mother’s and siblings’ schedules, as they were the ones who looked after my son while I attended classes.”

As a means of desperation and sheer commitment, Vernosha recalls bringing her son to class with her at times when no one else could tend to him.

“My lecturers were very supportive, and most of my classmates were too,” Vernosha said. “When I did clinicals at the hospital I woke up at 4 a.m. just to ensure my son was taken care of for the day and I made it to the clinicals on time—this was perhaps one of the most challenging encounters I’ve had in my life.”

In addition to Vernosha’s challenges as a single mother and full-time student, she struggled greatly in her fourth semester where she failed a course which set her graduation back by one year. This setback was bittersweet for her as she would have to spend an additional year to earn her degree; however, it also meant that she will now be graduating with her little sister.

“At first it was really disappointing when I failed, however being in the same year as my sister was beneficial to me, she was very instrumental in improving my study habits, I believe it is more of an accomplishment to be graduating with her,” Vernosha said.

Graduate on the St. Thomas Campus
Natasha, on the other hand, began her journey at UVI on the St. Thomas Campus, but later transferred to the Albert A. Sheen Campus when the ability to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing became available on St. Croix. Returning to St. Croix also meant that she could now be a part of her nephew’s life.

Natasha too describes the nursing program as challenging; she remembers crying every time she got less than a B in her classes. As a committed student, Natasha did everything in her power to secure top grades, even if it meant giving up her social life and committing fully to her studies. These efforts certainly did not go unnoticed. Natasha copped the award for the highest GPA as a junior in 2018, then again in 2019 for the highest GPA in the graduating class, the Nursing School Dean’s award for academic excellence and professional nursing qualities, as well as the UVI Nursing faculty award for leadership.

When asked how she feels about her upcoming graduation, Natasha says she is ecstatic.

“I am the one person in my class who is getting everyone excited about graduation,” Natasha said. “I am constantly posting on my social media accounts about graduation. This journey took me five years instead of four and the best part of it is that I will be graduating with my sister. I am very happy to have my sister by my side.” 

Jessica Nagel

Jessica Nagel: A Journey without Excuses

Jessica Nagel grew up in Indiana and always wanted to become a veterinarian, a dream that later transformed into a passion for marine biology, and the successful completion of a Master of Marine and Environmental Science (MMES) from UVI.

In 2017, just after graduating from St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer Indiana with a Bachelor’s of Science in degree in Biology with a concentration in wildlife, she enrolled in the MMES program at UVI in a cohort of 12 students just two weeks before Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The aftermath of the storms meant no electricity, no labs, damaged buildings and no office to work from; however, these occurrences were not excuses for late assignments and poor performance. According to Nagel her professors worked assiduously to ensure that the high standard of the program was maintained.

For Jessica, the memorable moments of her degree did not only include her studies, she enjoyed the outreach programs she participated in and loved partaking in the community events where she interacted with the St. Thomas Community, especially the Youth Ocean Explorers Program. Jessica also worked as a teacher’s assistant where she assisted students and conducted lab experiments.

When asked how she feels about graduating Jessica said that she is dedicating the degree to her grandfather who passed away in February 2018.

“It is indeed a bittersweet moment, I am sad to leave all my friends behind, but I am so grateful for the experiences I got in the MMES program, which made me very marketable in the field,” Nagel said. “It is a fast-paced program, it was a lot of work and I am relieved it is over, I am on to the next step where I can begin putting my theory into practice.”

Jessica was determined to complete her studies and defended her thesis on April 12, 2019, where she researched: Using bioacoustics to measure the effects of hurricanes on bats in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Remarkably Jessica is the first of her cohort to defend her master’s thesis and to graduate in May 2019.

Dr. Andréa Dorsey: 

Dr. Andréa Dorsey: At the pinnacle of Virgin Islands’ Academic, Community and Spiritual Success

Dr. Andréa Dorsey is the first student to complete the University of the Virgin Islands’ Ph.D. in Creative Leadership for Innovation and Change within three consecutive years. She is also the first UVI employee to earn this new degree.

Born and raised in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dr. Dorsey always knew that she was going to complete a terminal degree. She first earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Biology, then her Master’s Degree in Education Counselling – both at UVI.

“My parents have supported and guided me along the way,” she says. “They instilled in me the value of education along with a strong spiritual foundation. As a result, I have embraced education not as an option, but rather a requirement for life.”

Utilizing her experiences as a community leader, volunteer, and academic advisor, Dr. Dorsey successfully navigated through her doctoral program while working full-time. “After working all day, I would typically attend three-hour class sessions, project meetings, or completing multiple individual assignments with pressing deadline dates,” she says. “I sacrificed weekends and holidays so that I could remain on course academically and professionally.”

Dr. Dorsey believes that her doctoral degree is more about creating positive change.

“The degree symbolizes a sense of empowerment and serves as a source of inspiration for others, particularly young people and women in the community and throughout the world,” she says.

Graduates on the St. Croix Campus
For Dr. Dorsey, this degree has equipped her with the tools to become a highly trained creative leader who is able to harness her greatest potential by helping others.

“I am passionate about empowering others around me to achieve their greatest potential by living on purpose through the harnessing of their skills in order to dominate in their spheres of influence,” she says. “My training through the doctoral program has prepared me to continue my life work, which is to teach others the skills that they need to build leaders, achieve higher levels of productivity and develop sustainable solutions.”

Dr. Dorsey is optimistic for the future that this doctoral degree will afford her. “One of my goals is to work to improve and enhance the educational system within the Virgin Islands,” she says. “My training, personal and professional experiences have enabled me to offer extensive knowledge and expertise to assist with improving success rates in the areas of student engagement, retention and graduation. I look forward to offering my skillsets and services to provide research-based interventions in this area to serve UVI and the Virgin Islands’ community.”

According to Dr. Dorsey, the doctoral program provides a pathway and a pipeline for developing creative leaders in order to foster a culture of innovation for the Virgin Islands’ community, wider Caribbean and beyond. She explains that, “through the use of the creative mindset, one can apply methodologies and approaches focused on stimulating creative thinking and creative problem solving in order to become intentional about change leadership.” She says this would be important when considering operational efficiencies in the areas of problem solving, decision-making processes, and patterns in communication within organizations.

According to Dr. Dorsey, UVI is more than a place of employment for her.

“The University of the Virgin Islands is a special place for me,” says Dr. Dorsey. “It is the place that I received many opportunities from as early as high school which continued into earning my bachelor’s, master’s and now my doctorate degree.” She continued, “There are several colleagues and professors who are very instrumental to my success today. I extend my appreciation to them for investing into my life.” 

Wanda Rosario

Wanda Rosario: It Is Never Too Late To Fulfill Your Dream


Wanda first enrolled at the University of the Virgin Islands in 1994 where she took skills classes up until 1995. In time she learnt that the demands of her job as a CAT Scan technologist, at the Juan F. Luis Hospital on St. Croix, which sometimes included 12-hour days would mean that completing her degree would not be possible at that time.

In an act of pure love upon her retirement, Wanda’s son Michael registered her at UVI in 2015, bought her textbooks and told her it was time to get her degree. Wanda accepted the challenge and was very excited to become a UVI student. According to Wanda, her freshman year was difficult, but she overcame with the help of her professors.

“I wanted the full college experience as full-time student,” Rosario says. “Math was my hardest subject, I didn’t do math for 30 plus years, but thankfully I had good professors who made sure I understood the material. I was very fortunate that my professors really cared.”

For Wanda although it was her dream to earn a bachelor’s degree her ultimate goal was to help the mentally ill in the Virgin Islands.

“Being on the island and seeing how many mentally ill persons we have here, I wanted to be a part of the solution and go into the health profession,” Rosario says.

As Wanda progressed through her years at UVI she quickly overcame the challenges of being a mature student. Often Wanda became enveloped in self-doubt, she worried that her age would be a major deterrent from excelling in her degree. With the encouragement of her peers and professors, and sheer determination, Wanda was able to maintain a 3.5 GPA while completing her studies.
Graduate on the St. Croix Campus
In reflecting on the four-year journey, Wanda reminisces on her first psychology classes where she felt as though she was in a foreign country.

“It was very challenging, I almost changed my major to English,” Rosario says. “Learning theories, and about the founding fathers of Psychology was challenging; however, I stuck it out. My advisors and professors were a great source of motivation for me, by the end of my sophomore year I knew I was in the right place.”

When Wanda became settled into UVI, she spread her wings and she became an academic coach at the Center for Student Success where she helped other students and referred them to resources on campus that would improve their college experience.

With her Bachelor’s degree in hand Wanda has created a formidable plan for the future. In Fall 2019, Wanda will enroll at UVI to pursue a Masters of Arts in Psychology. Upon completion of her second degree Wanda wishes to earn a Ph.D. at the University of the Virgin Islands. Ultimately Wanda has two goals on the horizon, firstly to work in systemic change and policy making and secondly to lecture at the University of the Virgin Islands.

Despite the challenges Wanda met at UVI, she is happy she made the decision not to give up on her dream. She hopes that many persons her age would take the opportunity to enroll for classes at UVI.

“I’m always recruiting for UVI, it is never too late to go back to school and fulfill your dream,” Rosario says. “Even if you are finished with your career and think it is over it is not over, I am a prime example, it is never too late to make a change. Don’t die with all of your skills and talent. I have been encouraging persons it is doable at any age.”