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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, July 14, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesUVI GRAD PRAISES OPPORTUNITIES, MENTORING

UVI GRAD PRAISES OPPORTUNITIES, MENTORING

When I first entered the University of the Virgin Islands in the fall of 1996, I didn't know what awaited me.
It was Dr. Frank Heikkila, now faculty emeritus at UVI, who told me, after I aced one of his exams, "I know just the person you should associate yourself with; your future in marine science will be way beyond the university limits. Like the old West Indian women say, "So said so done." I'm currently at one of the world's premiere oceanographic institutes pursuing my Ph.D. in biological oceanography.
Professor Roy Watlington (RAW) is my academic father: He empowered me with an invincibility that makes me face any mountain; nothing is a challenge beyond me. When obstacles do appear, I remember him saying, "Compose yourself, take your time, prioritize and then launch the attack." So, whether being at UVI's MacLean Marine Science Center at all hours of the morning trying to solve oxygen sensors equipment, preparing for a cruise, or trying to get the right depth of Kick ’em Jenny (the submarine volcano) with echo-sounding data, working with the "di man" is something I would wish for all students.
Patronize the facilities of the institution: faculty, location, staff and past students, what have you. It really does pay off.
Now, on the matter of the Anegada Climate Tracers Study [an ongoing UVI project with Watlington as principal investigator] at UVI: I am probably one the oldest scientific UVI members, I guess second to RAW. I have been on nine of the 13 ACTS scientific cruises. On the Windward Islands Passage Monitoring Program [researching under the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] cruises I have done probably six out of the 19.
On my debut with ACTS, I must say I was overambitious; I wanted to take part in all parts of the scientific activity. I guess RAW thought it was little too much for me, but I was ready, "young and full of energy" — probably fueled by the fact I come from a very competitive household and competitive island. St. Lucia has the highest number per capita of Nobel laureates, and I attended all the schools they attended in St. Lucia. So I guess their stock is also my stock. (Smile — that is the RAW in me talking "roots of origin.")
My family is unbelievable. My parents, Robert and Marie Volson, had six sons, all of whom are exceptional in what they do. We have a captain pilot of a Caribbean and mainland American airline, a soon-to-be medical doctor in Jamaica, a criminal lawyer in the making in New York, myself, and my two small brothers still in high school in St. Lucia. My folks impressed on us at very early age the concept that "you reap what you sow," and that hard work does pay off. Now I'm a married man with children. My wife, Wendy, is as competitive as I am and drives me even more now to be the best I can be. She has been my backbone throughout my undergraduate education and now in my graduate education. In front of every successful man there is even a more successful woman.
Back to my first cruise. With ACTS, freshmen are not allowed to take part in the seagoing portion for their first year. But thereafter, good grades and good sampling techniques will land you a lifetime of seagoing cruises.
I was disappointed at not taking part in the cruise of '96, which was the last cruise of the R/V Malcolm Baldrige. But this spring I went on the R/V Ronald H. Brown with the same crew that had been on the Baldrige. No longer a freshmen, like other students I have matured into a seaworthy sampling technician. "You are now a senior scientist of ACTS/WIMP." I blushed!
The '96 trip was also the last time until this spring that UVI/NOAA did a survey of the submarine volcano Kick 'Em Jenny. Now we have revisited the volcano with yours truly as part of the seagoing crew.
Even though I wasn't at sea in '96, I still took part, by learning the other side of ACTS, pre and post activities: the grant handling and budgeting, the scientific procedures for sampling and analyzing data, the Matlab software chosen by Watlington. I learned with him, up to the point where some of the language that we did in our lab in the MacLean Marine Science Center at UVI could be found on the software's web page. ACTS has taught me a lot.
My computer skills were exceptional when I entered the university; my dad had invested our summers learning DOS and some other computer jargon. That has played a major role in my career up to today, with Watlington's high demand for a computer-skilled person to follow and understand why we do what we do. Going to sea to collect data, analysis is the primary aspect of all research. So I learned analysis of Conductivity Temperature Depth, or CTD, data to a point that I did an independent study of John Brewers Bay, "Mare Nostrum." This study was conducted with approaches similar to ACTS, but to explain the changes in the bay in the aftermath of the airport extension. That project was completed and still today has brought nothing but scientific recognition locally, regionally and internationally.
I am currently at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography pursuing a doctorate in biological oceanography. I am basically interested in how the physical aspect of the ocean affects the biology of the ocean. Many UVI faculty and staff were always keen on mentioning to me that with the amazing career I had as an undergraduate, graduate school was a definite. I guess they knew what they talking about. Thanks UVI, my alma mater by the sea!
I have seen ACTS participation expand from all marine biology majors to other science majors and then to talented female UVI scientists and even to non-science majors. As the UVI institution gears up for its 40th celebrations, it has a lot to be proud of.
I was always told what a great time the ACTS/WIMP scientific party had at St. Lucia in '96, but after that, ACTS never called again at the "Helen of the West Indies" — until ACTS 13. This time, it was new elite scientific party that consisted of my academic uncles, Doug Wilson and William Johns, chief scientists of WIMP; and some of the first ACTS-UVI female scientists that were trained by yours truly. It was a great moment in time, and the events of this cruise shall remain with me forever.
Seeing my dad and mom for the first time since my UVI graduation two years ago was even more emotional. There was a lot of excitement and emotion in the air. Lots of hugging! Bill Johns, who departed from St. Lucia to fly back to the mainland, was treated to afternoon of St. Lucian cuisine in the company of my folks. I guess he must have heard all my childhood stories. (I am looking forward to his e-mail!)
ACTS, you see, is a major part of my career as a whole.

Editor's note: Barry Volson flew to the Virgin Islands from his studies at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography to lead the sampling team on the first leg of the ACTS 13 cruise in mid-March 2002. For The Source news article on ACTS 13, see "New NOAA vessel is lab for UVI researchers".
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