Workforce Mentorship Program Seeks to Attract Virgin Islands Science Grads

The Virgin Islands is embarking on a mentorship program that sponsors hope will lead to home-based careers for new college graduates. The program, funded by the National Science Foundation and the Seas Islands Alliance, is called Navigating Home.

Kristen Grimes, director of Navigating Home. (Photo courtesy UVI)
Kristen Grimes, director of Navigating Home. (Photo courtesy UVI)

According to the program’s director, the goal of Navigating Home is to identify the most promising graduates and match them with short- or long-term internships based in geosciences. “This program is trying to build capacity in these islands,” said University of the Virgin Islands Assistant Professor Kristin Grimes.

Other U.S. territories — Puerto Rico and Guam — are sponsoring their own versions of the program in hopes of mentoring their most promising students into their local job markets.

Three recently graduated students from UVI’s bachelor’s and master’s degree programs are the current recipients of workforce fellowship grants. Two of the three say they have now signed up for graduate studies in the school’s marine science program.

All participating students receive mentoring and public engagement and science communications training. They are also eligible for stipends that allow them to travel to science conferences and pursue further professional development.

“The goal is to try and keep the best of the students we have and encourage them to pursue science careers at home,” Grimes said. Grant recipient Chloe Camacho said she’s using her public engagement opportunities to visit ninth- and 10th-graders in their classrooms.

Camacho said she’s happy to engage with students because teaching science is one of her aspirations. “This fellowship allows me to come home to work,” she said.

Larissa Sweeney is using her eight-week fellowship to reconnect with the National Park Service on St. Croix, working on a variety of projects. Sweeney said she completed her undergraduate work in South Florida but came home to the big island every summer to work with the NPS.

“I fully ran away, but I came straight back because I really missed it. It was like I used to look at this place as a kid, but now I’m looking at it with the eyes of an adult,” Sweeney said.

Miranda Goad said she was thinking about enrolling in art school but kept feeling a tug to get back into marine science. She is now working with Research Professor Rick Nemeth, who is studying the stoplight parrotfish.

The effects of the ocean environment on sea life are one of several fields that fall under the banner of geoscience. It is also one of the fields that can benefit from having more home-grown scientists contributing to broader knowledge of the world that surrounds them, the director said.