Sept. 14, 2007 — While courses offered at the University of the Virgin Islands allow students to delve into a wide range of fields, there are still some skill sets in the community that have been left untapped, professors and community members said Thursday evening during a public meeting on the school's St. Thomas campus.
Hosted by officials from UVI's Department of Research and Public Service, the meeting was set up as a networking tool between school officials and local residents. UVI is working on a master plan for the future, explained department Vice-Provost Henry H. Smith, and needs the local community to come forward with ideas for new research projects and initiatives.
Representing the local farmer's collective We Grow Food Inc., Benita Martin-Samuel said the school should concentrate more on youth outreach and teaching students in elementary, junior and high schools about the university's programs. Starting high school clubs and organizations that teach students about sectors of the community such as agriculture and marine science should also be a top priority, she said.
"There should be more career awareness programs," Martin-Samuel said. "Many students out there are not interested in things like marine biology, or they don't know very much about the field and what they can do. We need to educate our students about some of the non-traditional career choices that are out there and direct them to the right resources."
Martin-Samuel's statements struck a chord with many of the attendees, who said that skills such as boat building, sailing and courses in marine mechanics are in high demand but are not a fixture in the university's curriculum. With an extensive marine science program, boat mechanics are a valued commodity at UVI, one professor said, but not many students are being trained to do the work.
Agriculture is another ailing profession, said Dale E.R. Morton, an extension agent with UVI's agriculture and natural resources program. Colleague Carlos Robles added that after a large batch of professionals prepares to leave government service within the next five years, there will be no one left on island with a degree in agriculture.
"We have to start training our successors to take over these kinds of jobs," Morton said.
Looking into new programs, such as agribusiness, should also be explored, university representatives said.
"We really have to look at these things, think about them and plan strategically for how they can be implemented," Smith added.
Broadening the scope of the discussion, community members also suggested that UVI take its power to the airwaves, encouraging students through a university-run radio station. Currently, UVI has a presence on local radio programs, such as Radio One's Afternoon Mix, but does not have a comprehensive media arena in which to showcase academic programs, organizations and initiatives, residents said.
Morton added that the school, in taking the time to host various workshops and programs on a variety of different subjects, should also begin to "practice what they preach" and set an example for the community to follow.
This includes partnering with other colleges, instead of viewing them as competition, Robles said. In seeking to expand the university's curriculum, nearby schools in locales such as Puerto Rico can serve as valuable resources and can help UVI set up certification or other programs that focus on in-demand fields, such as business or aquaculture.
Topping the list of suggestions was the need for UVI to expand its communications efforts, reaching out to the local community through bulletins, public service announcements and other marketing strategies to keep residents in the loop on some of the programs offered in both districts.
"You have to package your product creatively," Martin-Samuel said. "Don't just hand out information. Show that you're doing something different."
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