UVI Unveils St. John Academic Center

Video Conferencing, Cooperative Extension Service and Small Business Development Center Available

A classroom at the academic center has video conferencing capabilities.

Instead of a place to work muscles, the former Gym in Paradise location on the third floor of The Marketplace is now a place for residents to exercise their brains.

University of the Virgin Islands officials hosted a grand opening for their new St. John Academic Center at a reception at The Marketplace on Monday evening, March 21.

UVI’s expansive space has four classrooms, each equipped with video conferencing capabilities, and will also offer Cooperative Extension Services and Small Business Development Center services.

A band played in The Marketplace courtyard Monday night as guests enjoyed passed hors d’oeuvres from Nibbs catering during the reception and ribbon cutting for the new center.

Funded in part by a five-year $337,000 annual Title III grant from  the U.S. Department of Education, the center’s opening made good a promise pledged last year by UVI President Dr. David Hall.

“One year ago this month we had a meeting at the Westin when I made a bold statement that part of my commitment was to build a bridge between St. Thomas and St. John,” said Hall. “Well now that bridge has been built. The fact that it occurred within a year, shows that UVI is an institution which delivers on its promises.”

Rachelle Shells, above, shows off the center’s discovery learning room.

Hall was joined at the Monday reception by Senator at Large Craig Barshinger, Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen, UVI Board members, Trustees, Deans, professors and more.

“This is an historic moment,” said Barshinger. “When Dr. Hall took over the helm of the university, the first thing we talked about was UVI having a presence on St. John. In this economy, it would have been easy to make excuses, but his commitment was genuine.”

“UVI is far away from St. John,” said the senator at large. “Today that gap has been reduced to nothing. This brings the islands together.”

The new center will allow UVI students living on St. John to access classes being hosted on the university’s St. Thomas or St. Croix campuses, via video conferencing, explained UVI Provost Dr. Karl Wright.

“The St. John Academic Center is about more than just academics,” said Wright. “We are offering three components — teaching, serving the community needs and engaging in research. There are 42 kids who commute between St. John and our St. Thomas campus.”

“Now they can access the campus right here on St. John,” said Wright.

UVI’s new center illustrates that university officials were listening to the needs of St. John students, according to Christensen.

“Thank you, UVI for listening to the people of St. John,” said the Delegate to Congress. “Thanks for making it, more than ever, the University of the Virgin Islands.”

The St. John Academic Center should go a long way toward changing students’ attitudes about attending a school of higher learning, according to Hall.

“There are students on this island who are deciding to not pursue higher education because they believe the hurdle is too high,” said the UVI President. “It’s our job to lower that hurdle. Education should be accessible.”

In addition to the UVI classroom access, CES and SBDC will offer continuing education and counselling services to adults in the community, Hall added.

“Adults in the community need advanced training too,” he said. “CES and SBDC will be available to the people of St. John. We are one university and all parts of our community must be served.

The federal grant for the academic center will last for the next five years, after which UVI officials still want to maintain their presence on St. John, Hall explained.

“We don’t want to be here temporarily,” he said. “We want to be here forever. We must get members of this community to own this space.”

“We need your support,” said Hall. “We need private donors to keep this going and we will be launching a St. John Academic Center Fund.”

Hall invited Barshinger, Wright and Christensen to help cut a blue ribbon and officially open the center.

In addition to the opportunity to access classes, CES and SBDC will staff the St. John Academic Center once a week, and residents are asked to call the St. Thomas offices to make appointments for free counselling or other services.

The UVI St. John Academic Center consists of a discovery learning center with four computers and monitors, which will allow students to share research and work on group projects, explained Rachelle Shells, who is spearheading the new center.

“Each computer in here is linked to its own monitor and wireless USB cord so students can share their research and explain what they are doing,” said Shells.

A second room at the center houses a large classroom with video conferencing capabilities for students to sit in on classes being taught on UVI’s St. Thomas or St. Croix campuses, Shells explained.

“This room will allow a student to conference into their class being hosted on St. Thomas without having to leave St. John,” she said. “We have a student from St. John who is a computer science major and he’s going to use this room to conference into his classes on Thursdays.”

A comfortable technology lounge with modular furniture allows students to rearrange the area to meet their needs, according to Shells.

“If it is just one student in a class, they can come in here instead of the large classroom and use the video conferencing,” she said. “Or this is a great study lounge since you can move things around and get comfortable.”

The fourth room in the center is a full-sized conference room with two monitors and video conferencing capabilities as well. The final room is an office which will be shared by university officials, CES and SBDC, Shells added.

Students can only video conference to St. Thomas classes if those classes are hosted in a video conference room at the campus, explained Shells.

Currently 20 percent of the classrooms on St. Thomas campus are video conference capable, Shells added.

The St. John center fills a mission statement and a long-hoped for goal of SBDC, explained Leonor Dottin, state director for SBDC.

“We’ll be providing outreach services, counselling and some specialized training,” said Dottin. “Our counseling service is one-on-one with small business owners and is totally free.”

The office is still working out its schedule, but hoped to have a weekly presence on St. John, Dottin added.

“This is a great opportunity to make our services available on St. John,” she said. “We look at this as a great opportunity. For us it’s a win-win, but it’s an even bigger win for the residents of St. John who don’t have to come to St. Thomas for our services.”

“This is a tremendous asset for St. John and one that is long overdue,” Dottin said. “For me it’s a dream come true.”

To schedule a counselling session with SBDC call 776-3206. For information about CES services or UVI classes at the St. John Academic Center, call 639-1367.