While all college freshmen face the educational and social transition from high school, there is, in addition, culture shock and climate shock for many Virgin Islanders who enroll at mainland institutions.
At the University of Delaware, "Mrs. P" helps make things a lot easier.
There are about 20 V.I. students attending the university at present, and they all have a home away from home, if they want it, with "Mrs. P" — also known as Harriet Porter, associate director of admissions — and her husband, John.
Just one example: For Thanksgiving this year, as in years past, the couple hosted a number of the students for turkey and all the trimmings. "They are all invited, but some have family members or friends to visit, and I never know until the last minute how many will be coming," Porter says.
Her Virgin Islands connection dates from the 1970s when she was working in admissions at the then-College of the Virgin Islands on the St. Thomas campus. "I had a wonderful two and a half years there before coming to UD in 1975," she says.
Little did she know then that she would carry her island connection with her to Delaware and nurture it over the years. "The university seeks a diverse population, and I have made visits to the Virgin Islands to recruit students there, since I am familiar with the culture and the high schools," she explains.
Each fall, she hosts informational breakfasts and luncheons for school principals and guidance counselors in Puerto Rico as well as the Virgin Islands. In the spring, she returns to the islands to hold receptions for admitted students, their parents and the parents of current students. She says she tells parents, "Send me your children, and I will watch over them," and she means it.
A week before the residence halls open, the Porters open their home to the incoming freshman Virgin Islanders, meeting them at the airport and taking them in for a four-day personal orientation. "This year, there were eight of them," she says, "so we pressed couches and air mattresses into service."
During the four days she not only explains "what is expected of them at the university," but accompanies them on shopping trips for supplies and warm clothes — "the K-mart clerks all know us" — and helps them with buying books, opening bank accounts and finding their way around campus.
"We are the students' surrogate parents, and it's a time of bonding with us and with each other," she says.
Moving-in day can be traumatic for the parents of one child starting college. Last fall, the Porters helped 10 take up residence on the campus. Her son, a 1998 UD graduate, and some friends "pitched in to help," she says.
"We are on call for the students the way parents are," she says of their commitment. "When two of the girls became stranded at the mall, they called us. When one student went out for the cross-country and track teams and could not go home for the winter holidays, he stayed with us. Another stayed with us during spring break."
She says her special attention to the Virgin Islands has paid off for the university: "We are recruiting some excellent students. This year, we have the top three students from a high school on St. Croix." The V.I. students are majoring in the sciences, engineering, nursing, hospitality industry management and more. "When I checked the grades of the first group of freshmen last year," she says, "I was elated to find out two were on the dean's list and the others were doing well."
The island students come from high schools which are nationally accredited, and they can qualify for the same financial aid and scholarships as other U.S. students, Porter notes, but "at the same time, they add diversity and a new dimension to our student body."
V.I. high school students, potential transfer students and their families can contact Porter in the UD admissions office at (302) 831-1607.


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