UVI Opens a Space on St. Thomas to Nurture Big Ideas

Once a food center, creators of UVI’s 13D Research & Strategy Innovation Center says they will nurture big ideas (Submitted photo)

Excitement filled the air at a converted St. Thomas supermarket on Monday as the University of the Virgin Islands held a grand opening for a new research and innovation center. Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach and members of the 35th Legislature joined university officials, faculty and students for presentations and guided tours of the facility.

The 18,000-square-foot facility is described as a multi-purpose space with a reception area, digital information boards, and seating. It also houses conference rooms and media tables to facilitate creative thinking and the development of new ideas.

Visitors milled through the halls on the top and bottom floors of the reconstructed building to view exhibits and work spaces seen through glass walls. A team from the UVI Medical Simulation Center on St. Croix brought robotic patients used to train doctors and nurses to perform medical procedures.

Marine scientists from the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research brought an undersea drone used to collect data on ocean surface temperatures. Visitors also stopped to view a flight simulator that will soon be used to train students for the aviation field.

Those who entered through the main entrance could look up towards the mezzanine, where a hologram display produced animated artwork.

In his welcoming remarks, UVI President David Hall said the center itself was born from a big idea. “Every discipline at the university has embraced this calling and will utilize this space to stimulate creativity and innovation in their field,” he said.

While the presentations took place, an interactive class was underway with instructors of the school’s Creativity Lab. UVI Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Camille McKayle led a discussion while jotting down notes on a board. McKayle said the lab is now a part of the doctoral program in Creative Leadership for Innovation and Change.

The program was put in place to train postgraduate students in ways to transform ideas into innovative practices and to train them in how to lead others in making changes a reality.

“We also help you find out how you approach problems, helping you figure out how to find or loose your creative self. … We also do team building, and planning, and creative problem solving,” McKayle said.

Those who gathered for the presentations were also treated to a production by the school’s music department. Chairman Dion Parsons explained that through the use of the music technology lab, student musicians were able to pre-recorded segments of a song. It was then played as background music for a team of singers, a saxophone, and a bass player who performed live at the center.

Institutional Advancement Vice President Mitchell Neaves said the center gives the UVI Research and Technology Park a chance to conduct research and development on campus. That shift also provides an additional benefit for students, he said.

“The link between the RT Park and the 13D Research and Strategy Innovation Center is the fact that our students will be able to come in and work with these companies on projects that the companies are working on,” Neaves said.

Hall credited the Department of the Interior, as well as executives of 13D Research and Strategy Innovation Center, Microsoft, and others, for providing financial and material support that helped make the center possible.

University leaders and their partners also thanked the former owners of West Bay Supermarket — the original occupants — by creating an inscription over the front door that calls them “Pioneers of the Dream.”

Since the closing of West Bay Supermarket in 2019, UVI has leased space inside the building to conduct different programs, including Census 2020 and the Small Business Development Center. Three days before the grand opening took place, lawmakers voted approval of a land swap between the university and the Port Authority. That action, once signed by Gov. Albert Bryan, will make the property where the center sits a permanent part of UVI’s property.