The University of the Virgin Islands brought St. John into the fold Monday when it officially opened its Academic Center located on the third floor of the Marketplace shopping center.
“Our goal is to lower the hurdles [to education],” UVI President David Hall said.
The Academic Center will have an office for UVI’s Cooperative Extension Service and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Additionally, students will be able to attend classes via teleconferencing.
Hall and others spoke about the arduous commute faced by the 42 St. John residents who attend classes at UVI’s St. Thomas campus. Additionally, he said that there are potential students who opt not to attend UVI because it’s too difficult to get to the St. Thomas campus, which is located at the far western end of St. Thomas, while St. John is reached via ferry that leaves from the far eastern end.
“It’s too much of a hassle,” Hall said.
UVI Provost Karl Wright said that UVI staff listened to St. John students when they talked about their difficult commute.
“We heard their stories,” he said.
UVI staff will work out how students will utilize videoconferencing on an individual basis. Rachelle Shells, who is spearheading the St. John facility, said that about 20 percent of the St. Thomas classrooms are currently set up for videoconferencing.
Cooperative Extension often holds activities on St. John, but State Director Kwame Garcia saw more possibilities. He said that workshops held, for example, on St. Croix could be videoconferenced to St. John.
This will help UVI get more for its money when it pays workshop presenters. And he said that since “everybody” wants to come to St. John, it will help Cooperative Extension to market its program.
Leonor Dottin, the SBDC’s state director, has big plans for SBDC outreach services at the Academic Center. She plans on counseling services and specialized training for St. John residents. She said that SBDC staff will be available Thursdays and as needed.
“It’s a great opportunity because we haven’t targeted St. John that much,” she said.
Others saw opportunities beyond education. Delegate Donna M. Christensen said her town hall meetings held on another island could include St. John by using the Academic Center’s videoconferencing.
St. John resident Miles Stair suggested that the territory’s various boards and commissions could use the videoconferencing feature to hold meetings.
Opening the Academic Center was possible because UVI got a $337,000 federal grant, chief information officer Tina Koopmans said. The grant is renewable for five years.
However, Hall said that when the grant runs out, UVI will have to raise money to keep the St. John facility open. With that goal in mind, he announced the formation of the St. John Academic Fund.