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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, May 30, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesCollege Forum: UVI Can Play Major Role in Community Development

College Forum: UVI Can Play Major Role in Community Development

After a couple days of brainstorming about how to make the University of the Virgin Islands better, members of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, on island for their annual winter meeting, presented their recommendations Friday to UVI’s president, faculty and staff.

The two-day conference was organized a little differently this year, with members actively working on strategies to boost enrollment, improve curriculum and make their host college — in this case UVI — more relevant in the eyes of the surrounding community.

"This was an experiment in international learning," George L. Mehaffy, the association’s vice president for academic leadership and change, said during a public forum held Friday afternoon at the Reichhold Center for the Arts. "In trying a different kind of conference model — we could have crashed and burned — it gave us enormous hope for conferences of the future."

While only about an hour, the forum was packed with ideas on how UVI can contribute to local economic development efforts, help tackle major community issues and collaborate more with the Education Department and Board of Education — along with students and other stakeholders — on how to reduce the high male drop-out rate.

In terms of economic development, AASCU members showed how focusing on the details could actually make a big impact. Turning several acres of unused land into something like a volleyball pit that could also double as a tourist attraction would help keep UVI at the forefront of economic development, said Ivelaw Griffith, provost and senior vice-president for academic affairs at the City University of New York.

Making more grants available for students and faculty would also boost collaboration within the islands and nearby universities, he said, adding that it would also be helpful if UVI were to establish its economic value within the community by putting out an economic impact statement.

Channeling the spirit of President Barack Obama, Griffith reminded the audience that the most valuable commodity within today’s economy is knowledge, making education a prerequisite for any job and a foundation upon which communities are built.

Engaging the community more was also a common theme amongst the speakers. The territory has an active private sector and numerous non-profits, and they should be involved in helping the university plan for its future. That way, students will also have access to internships, mentorships and work-study opportunities that will make their studies relevant and help them succeed within the territory’s unique work environment, said T. Joan Robinson, provost and president of academic affairs at Morgan State University.

All citizens are responsible for helping to improve a community’s quality of life, but the university can add to that by serving as a venue for forums, discussions and outreach efforts that address critical problems such as crime, poverty and economic woes, she added.

Similarly, many speakers called for the establishment of advisory groups that put UVI faculty and students together with community members, Education representatives and government officials to discuss and come up with solutions for raising the standard of education in the territory. That includes revising curriculums, talking about how to motivate students and getting parents more involved.

It also includes pushing for the policy changes needed to help make these solutions possible, speakers said.

And of course, UVI not only has to uphold the rich traditions of the islands, but embrace and push for diversity — among its students and its courses, others said. Study-abroad programs, student-faculty partnerships and other cross-cultural exchanges should be encouraged, not condemned, they said.

UVI President David Hall, along with several of the university’s board members and top administrators, listened intently to the presentation. Afterward, Hall thanked the conference members for giving UVI what he called a "great gift" for the future.

"I accept this report with the hope that we can take these ideas and implement some of them so that when you return … you will see some changes," he said. "I accept this report with excitement, because it’s through the generation of new and creative ideas that we give life to the academy. I accept this report for my people — for the people of these islands."

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