Sunday, January 29, 2012

James Rakocy

James Rakocy

I participated in 30 years of development at UVI. It started on June 23, 1980, my first day of work, and ended on Nov. 30, 2010, my retirement day. Fresh from obtaining a PhD in aquaculture from Auburn University, my assignment was to lead the Aquaculture Program at the Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) in developing commercially feasible systems for the production of tilapia. Since there is little fresh water in the Virgin Islands, intensive production systems were required that conserved and reused water. We developed three commercially feasible systems: cage, aquaponic and biofloc systems.
In the beginning there were no facilities. My team and I installed a well and rainwater catchment, constructed a shed, erected tanks, built systems and dug ditches for water, air and electric lines. Initially I was more of a construction worker than a scientist. My office was in Building E, a house shared by AES and the cooking and sewing classes of the Cooperative Extension Service.
In 1987 I became the assistant director of AES and eventually worked my way up to director in 1996. A milestone occurred in 1988 when the fiscal year was ending with a budget surplus which enabled us to remodel Building E into a proper office and research facility with three laboratories. 

James Rakocy, third from right, at first Ag Fair 1981.
In 1989 powerful Hurricane Hugo came through destroying much of AES. Adversity turned into opportunity in 1990 when funds became available to build the Research and Extension Center with four offices for AES employees and two more laboratories, a field building containing 10 rooms for work and storage, and a bank of six greenhouses. We came out of that traumatic experience with greatly enhanced research capacity.
While the Aquaculture Program and AES were developing, UVI was growing at a remarkable rate with new buildings and infrastructure, state-of-the art information technology systems, more faculty and programs, comprehensive policies, better learning outcomes and greater emphasis on community engagement.
Personally I experienced the most gratifying career imaginable. In 1999 we started an annual short course to teach people how to use the technology we developed, especially the aquaponic system in which fish and vegetables are cultured together in a recirculating system. In 14 offerings, the course was attended by 566 students from 45 U.S. states and territories and 55 other countries. The UVI aquaponic system, as it is known, has become world famous and is being used in commercial operations in many U.S. states and foreign countries. Increasingly large facilities are being established. The story of the UVI aquaponic system is not finished, but it is important to recognize that UVI created an environment where innovation and creativity were allowed to flourish. I am very grateful UVI. Congratulations on your 50th Anniversary.

Photo detail: The 1981 photo shows, from left, Aquaculture staff members Ayyapan Nair, James Clark, Dr. Rakocy, UVI President Arthur Richards and AES and CES Director Darshan Padda. Click photo to view larger image.
Dr. James Rakocy is a former Research Professor of Aquaculture
and Director of the UVI Agricultural Experiment Station

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Frank L. Mills - 1967

Frank L. Mills
Here we are at 50! A time to “big up” ourselves. Indeed, an occasion to backslap because of what the College of the Virgin Islands has now become and what it has achieved. All of this seems so commonplace now, but this was certainly not the future image that captured our student imagination in the mid-1960s.

It is difficult to recall what catapulted me into campus politics in my first semester in the fall of 1965. It is not the politics itself that seems significant, but rather the consequences of being elected Vice President of the Student Association in my first year, and President in the second. What is noteworthy is that as President I was part of a symposium held in the Little Theater to defend the integrity of the fledgling college against a resident stateside writer who harshly criticized CVI as being a “big white elephant!” That is, CVI was labeled an enormously expensive exercise from which the VI would derive little benefit.

Even as a student leader, it was indeed brave for a foreign student to shepherd a group of students on a late Sunday afternoon in 1966 from the cafeteria-cum-library-cum-bookstore, up the hill to the President’s home, because of a totally unpalatable dinner. This was effectively the first campus demonstration – a rather miniscule one compared to the more serious demonstrations of the early 1970s. The first lesson learned was the need to remain resolute when convinced of the rightness of a cause, and the second was that it was in the interest of the chief administrator to ensure that students are reasonably satisfied.

Teaching at UVI in 1976

Some unforgettable events as a student included: my exposure to many notable Virgin Islanders who addressed Ideas and Issues sessions, my first and only visit to Virgin Gorda, witnessing Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Tortola, and working as a student at the Caribbean Research Institute.

My first – and only long-term – job at CVI began in 1974 with a joint appointment as Institutional Research Officer and Assistant Professor of Social Sciences. Teaching was a passion until it became evident that the motivation for a college education had changed significantly – exemplified by a student who, when questioned about her persistent lateness for class, rejoined that it should be no concern of mine since it was her money to waste! It was my significantly productive sabbatical year at the Census Bureau in Washington in 1985-86 that authenticated for me that there are many other meaningful callings in addition to teaching, such as the kind of applied research in which the Caribbean Research Institute was engaged, and eventually becoming the VI Census Data Center.

Direct involvement in the accreditation process of CVI/UVI has spanned my entire work period from getting ready for the first site visit in 1976 to the preparation of the current 2012 Periodic Review Report.

And so, in this Jubilee Year, I salute my alma mater on its many successes!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Carmie Thompson - 2010

Carmie Thompson
As the University of the Virgin Islands celebrates its fiftieth year since its founding throughout 2012, I would like to express my sincere support of this commemorative proceeding; for the years gone and those to come. As a recent alumnus of the institution, I have benefited from many of the services and activities which were hosted by UVI. Although I completed the majority of my studies on the St. Croix campus, I also enjoyed my visit to the St. Thomas campus to complete some summer courses. While studying at UVI, I spent many hours on campus not only attending classes but participating in activities. I was particularly interested in volunteer opportunities and UVI has several ways to contribute to the UVI community and the overall community where the campuses are located. 

My experience at UVI can be captured in three words: Learn, Participate and Volunteer. The activities associated with each of these categories are the things that stand out to me as significant to my UVI experience. 

Since most of my classes were evening sessions, it was quite humorous at times to dread the late hour classes. Still the learning experience was really great considering several things. My classes were not too large and facilitated much one on one question/answer times with my professors, there were lots of learning and growing in the group projects and above all, the end of exams was always a relief and I was able to spend time with friends reminiscing on the semester.

I was able to participate in activities that helped build my knowledge in specific and general areas. Some of the activities/organizations that UVI has and I participated in were the 4-H Collegiate Club, Thurgood Marshall College Fund Leadership Institute and Summer Institute for Future Global Leaders. My participation in these activities encouraged me to learn from my peers and share ideas.

One of the building bricks of my UVI experience was to volunteer my time and service. Meaningful volunteering was done as a researcher for a Retention and Graduation Focus Group, Career Fairs, Shadow Our Student and the Virgin Island’s Agriculture Fair.

The Office of Institutional Advancement (OIA) was a very supportive arm of UVI that I was able to benefit from. It’s because of the OIA that I was able to financially meet tuition cost for a semester through the William Koier Scholarship. The Office of Institutional Advancement also played a very vital role in days leading up to graduation. Now that I have graduated, I enjoy keeping in contact with professors and friends and financially supporting UVI.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Ralf (Rafe) H. Boulon, Jr. - 1976

Rafe Boulon
I was an undergraduate student in Marine and Environmental Sciences at the College of the Virgin Islands from 1971 to 1976. I started at CVI on a part-time basis so I could work and go to school at the same time. I can honestly say that CVI laid the foundation for all my future graduate and professional work and career.

With my strong interest in marine science it was fortunate that CVI at that time had the wonderful practice of bringing in a different visiting marine scientist almost every semester to teach some really great courses. As I found out when starting my Masters in Marine Science program at the University of Puerto Rico, CVI had prepared me better than almost every student entering the graduate program at UPR.

Rafe Boulon, at right, and friends at VIERS - 1975.
I think the greatest thing about studying marine science at CVI was the proximity to and availability of marine sites to get hands-on with what we were studying. My absolute favorite times were when one of our classes would go to the Virgin Islands Ecological Research Station (renamed the VI Environmental Resource Station (VIERS) in the 90s) at Lameshur Bay, St. John. See the picture at right with Henry Smith, Charles Bonanno, the late Gregory Willocks and myself at Lameshur for a marine science class in 1975. A group of us and the professor would go on a Friday afternoon and return Sunday afternoon after a day and a half of collecting and studying invertebrates or marine algae during the day and eating and swapping stories around dim lights at night, swatting mosquitoes.

After completing my Masters degree at UPR I returned to the VI and worked for eighteen years with the DPNR (formerly DCCA) Division of Fish and Wildlife, mostly working on marine projects and issues. Since 1999 I have been Chief of the Resource Management Division with the VI National Park and VI Coral Reef National Monument, again working with predominantly marine resource issues.

The second picture is me back at VIERS hosting a Science in the Park Conference in 2006, 31 years later.

I fully credit CVI with developing and honing my interest in marine science and giving me the strong background to have completed a graduate studies program and to have held two very interesting and challenging jobs during my professional career. CVI (UVI) – I can’t thank you enough!!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sinclair Wilkinson - 1972

Sinclair Wilkinson
One of my most memorable experiences while a student at the College of the Virgin Islands dates back to the 1969-70 school year, when I was enrolled as a sophomore on the St. Thomas campus. I recall gathering in the campus parking lot west of the bus shed with other students, representatives from various college clubs, members of the faculty and staff, and some community well-wishers. There, we geared up for our annual, long march and bonfire at Stumpy Bay. This serene spot was a remote public beach located 4 to 5 miles west of the campus.

It was a late Friday afternoon. Everyone was dressed in light and comfortable clothing. Some paraded in their club T-shirts, bathing suits, and different color sneakers. Each participant had an instrument consisting of either a tin can, drum, guitar, grater, old pan, or anything that could be used to make different types of music.

I recall all of the marchers engaging in uplifting chants – old and newly composed songs – that rhymed and consisted of some infectious tempo with beautiful melodies and great rhythms. Each acceptable song was accompanied with laughter and music that resonated from the makeshift instrumental band.

I also recall moving to the musical beat in the parking lot for about 30 minutes. We all introduced ourselves to each other, danced, socialized, and made sure that our marching shoes were strong enough to survive the long journey. We then waited and waited until someone gave the signal to “move out.”

Sinclair Wilkinson from 1969 Student ID Card
Traveling by foot to Stumpy Bay was no easy walk. The large hills had no pity on the quality of students, faculty, staff, or visitors as each hill had its own unique challenge. The pain on the legs got more and more intense as we approached each hill, but thankfully this intense pain was equalized with the rhythm from the marchers as the music got louder and louder. When one song was exhausted, another was composed and sung immediately by a new musical genius and we would all “join-in” to add our approval to this new melody that added some relief to the legs.

The first two miles of this march were traveled mainly uphill. It was gruesome for those who had not exercised for years and their “mind over matter" concept did not work. Some students sat along the side of the road to catch a breath or two; others removed their shoes, and a few begged and received a ride from the driver who rode alongside in a standby vehicle. When we arrived at the top of the last hill, all participants descended on their “own power.” Once on the beach, we gathered to make sure all were present, reviewed and selected a final uplifting song, synchronized our marching steps with the signals leader, and got an update on the status of the evening meal.

We were then greeted by the initial “advanced teams” who went ahead to prepare the bonfire and barbecue. As students, we all felt that our yearly college obligation and hiking mission were accomplished which was indeed a sigh of relief. Our legs got some needed rest and our marching ordeal was over.

Before we sat, we were all encouraged to dance around the bonfire, after which we listened to several anancy stories, ate, enjoyed the comedic entertainment, listened to some new reggae songs and speeches, and spoke about our hiking experience. At approximately 10:00 p.m., after all of the celebration had ended, someone announced that it was time to start marching back to the college. We all shouted in unison, “What! Walk Back! ARE YOU SERIOUS!!!”