March 16, 2006 — Birthday celebrations at the University of the Virgin Islands were bittersweet Thursday, as speakers at this year's Charter Day ceremony spoke about their fond memories of the school while offering alumni, staff, and faculty members some critical advice for the challenging future ahead.
The ceremony comes toward the end of Charter Week, which commemorates the establishment of the college in 1962.
During the ceremony many speakers focused on the idea of change and how the university would adapt to new populations, interests, and advancements in education and technology across the world.
They said the university, in addition to celebrating 44 years worth of achievements, should also be poised to shift into the future, where many young adults seem to be straying away from educational into drugs and crime, or are having trouble competing in a more aggressive job market.
"It's a future where native Virgin Islanders are disappearing into the United States where there are more opportunities," Dr. Arnold Highfield, professor emeritus at UVI, said during his presentation, which came via teleconference from the Evans Center Theater on UVI's St. Croix campus.
"It's a future in which we have to realize that there is one male student to every eight female students. Are we aware of what is happening to our young males? Are we reaching out to them, to bring them back into the mainstream? And it's a future where our local demographics are changing – where there's an enormous Hispanic population, which will continue to grow. We have to respond to these issues fairly soon if we want to be here in the next 100 years," Highfield said.
Highfield said that UVI professors have been responsible for inspiring students to be more confident about their abilities. "A very large part of what we do here – and certainly one of the most important – is uncovering the talents students possess, and giving that talent the confidence it needs to make its way into the world." To illustrate his statement, Highfield recounted the stories of three former UVI students, who came from adverse conditions and eventually succeeded in their fields of study.
While exploring this year's Charter Week theme – "Forging Bridges to Educational Excellence"–Lynette George, a registered nurse and UVI alum, further said it is "imperative" that the school keep up to date with the latest technological advancements, communicate openly with the local community, and help students to obtain a specialized skill set that will help them in the future. "We also have to keep a sense of pride and integrity in everything that we do," she said. "And we must remember that learning is a lifelong process – certainly UVI has a commitment to lifelong learning."
On a more positive note, Highfield said that UVI has adapted well to change in the last 44 years, expanding from a school immersed in "sugar cane fields in the 1960's" to two advanced campuses offering a range of courses in associates, bachelor's, and master's degree programs. "I used to hear people talk about attending UVI as a last resort," he said. "And I would have to disagree – we've always offered students an excellent education, and we will continue to do so."
Education Commissioner Noreen Michael, also a UVI alum, said the department has been working with the university to strengthen all levels of education throughout the territory. In terms of the college, however, Michael said UVI has been working with Education to "cultivate a new set of highly qualified teachers and paraprofessionals" and has developed a new master's program in mathematics, along with a bachelor's program in early childhood education and a school psychology program.
"Over the last four decades, UVI has played a pivotal role in contributing to the quality of life in the Virgin Islands by being the premiere educational institution," she said. "And I look forward, with eager anticipation, to the next 44 years and all the good things yet to come."
After hearing from the speakers, those attending the celebration Thursday were able to view the university's new student recruitment video, which promotes the academic, recreational, and historic aspects of UVI. Calling the college one of the territory's "best kept secrets," the video particularly highlights the university's close proximity to the beach and showcases some of the current marine biology projects — such as coral reef research and tilapia fish farming — which are currently ongoing.
In the video, UVI President LaVerne Ragster also talked about the university's low student-to-teacher ratio, the availability of internships and collaborative efforts with schools such as Columbia University, Washington University and Boston University's medical school.
The ceremony also featured the sounds of Anacrusis Brass, and the vocal stylings of Detra Davis, a UVI student, who sang the national anthem, the "Virgin Islands March" and "God Bless the Child."
Shannon Burton, a sophomore at UVI, also read a poem she had written entitled, "To My University."
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