Sunday, March 25, 2012

Yegin Habtes

Yegin Habtes
A few years back, I ran into Professor Armstrong of the Nursing Division coming out of the Nursing Building. She was visiting with her colleagues on the St. Thomas campus of UVI. I had not seen Professor Armstrong since she transferred to the St. Croix campus. When she saw me she said “How are you Dr. Habtes? I remember you when you first came to St. Thomas with your big afro!” Since then, Professor Armstrong has passed away. 

Yes, I came to the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) then called, College of the Virgin Islands (CVI) in the fall of 1979, with a big afro. The proof is right there. At that time, Dr. Lawrence C. Wanlass had just resigned and Dr. Arthur Richards was appointed as Acting President. When I was called for an interview, I asked myself how I should dress. You see, about five years earlier when I went to the University of Illinois, I was told that I would be meeting the Dean of the College of Education and Department heads on my first day of school. I went there in a three piece suit; just to find the Dean and a few others dressed in short sleeved shirts and blue jeans. I looked out of place! I didn’t want history to repeat itself; so when I was told to meet Dr. Richards, Dr. Paul Leary and Dr. Hoover for an interview, I thought that this was the tropics and people would dress casually. Therefore I went to the interview wearing a white short sleeved shirt and khaki pants. Boy was I wrong! All three of them were in dress pants, white shirts and neckties. 

There are very few professors still at UVI whom I met when I first came. I remember Dr. Simon Jones-Hendrickson. Yes, he had a big beard then, and he has one that is even bigger today. Two other faculty members that I met then were Dr. Frank Mills and Dr. Vincent Cooper. Frank was talking numbers then and he is still talking numbers. Old habits are hard to die. As for Cooper, whenever there was a talent show at the Reichhold Center he was reading short poems. That is all I have to say about Cooper’s poems. Another faculty who came around the same time with me is Dr. Solomon Kabuka. More than anything, I remember his house parties. The “Who is who” of St. Thomas were at those house parties! Solomon had a full head of black hair then; but wait, he still has black hair. I wonder! From the Nursing Division the distinguished professor Dr. Maxine Nunez was there. When I first met her, she introduced herself asWerknesh”. My response was “I can see”. I was very impressed to meet someone who could say something in Amharic, the Ethiopian official language. If you want to know what it means, you better ask her.

Another faculty who is still here is Dr. Lynn Rosenthal. In those days the six Divisions were divided by thick walls into tight compartments. Turf protection was the name of the game. Course “cross listing” was unheard of. When I first met Lynn, computer and computing was the buzz -word. We talked about extending computer courses to the Teacher Education Division and we agreed to develop one credit courses in computer education. About three courses were developed and were cross listed between Education and Mathematics and Science. This collaboration continued and later we wrote a Title IV grant to hire a professor who taught in the Divisions of Education and Math and Science. Another faculty who came around the same time was Dr. Dion Phillips. I found Dion very much informed about what was going around the world - particularly the first and the third world. We didn’t talk about anyone in the middle. Believe me, there was a lot going on then, and I found chatting with him very stimulating. Quite frequently, he talked about his research on “military”. He is still doing that. I might be wrong, but I think he is worried that the USA is going to invade Barbados one day (smile)!

My first carnival in St. Thomas was very mesmerizing. I went to the village every night. I saw people of different races and cultural backgrounds parading together in the children and adult parades. This scenery motivated me to develop my first course - a course designed to teach our future teachers how to instill in their students understanding and respect of the different cultures. I named the course “Education in a Multicultural Society”. It is still in the graduate catalog as Education in a Multicultural Society (EDU 531).

I have been here for three decades and what a privilege and honor to serve this institution and community. I had a ball in doing all that I have done and when I look back at my accomplishments I am very pleased with all of it. I have served this institution and this community with respect, honor and dignity to the best of my ability, and if I have to do it all over again, I will do it without hesitation.

Dr. Yegin Habtes is Professor of Education and Senior Executive Director of the Virgin Islands University Center for Excellence on Developmental Disabilities (VIUCEDD).

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rosary E. Harper

Rosary Harper
Reflections on UVI, ooooh where to start? I first became aware of St. Thomas while reading in Ebony magazine that in the 1940s President Truman appointed an Afro-American named William Henry Hastie as Governor of the U. S. Virgin Islands. I remember thinking I would love to live on an island. Well meh son, twenty-four years later I found myself employed at what was then the College of the Virgin Islands.

I landed on the island of St. Thomas in August 1970. My dream came true! I had been hired as an Instructor of Speech and Theatre. I quickly settled into my office on the second floor of the library, thrilled to be down the hall from President Lawrence Wanlass, the first President of the College. About two months later, the Humanities faculty moved to what was to be a temporary building near the old airplane hangar. Although the hanger is now the fabulous Sports and Fitness Center, the “temporary” Humanities building still stands.

It was in this “temporary“ building that I developed cherished, long-lasting friendships with such faculty members as Drs. Escardo, Padgett, De La Rionda, Sprauve, Tamayo, Lippke and Schubach. What wonderful years we had kidding, fighting, discussing and debating various proposals! We witnessed the College of the Virgin Islands grow into the University of the Virgin Islands. A few years later I was fortunate to welcome two wonderful theatre colleagues: Professors Tom Zeigler and Dennis Parker. My best memories are working with them along with the Division’s Administrative Assistant, Mary Alexander, who literally was the glue holding us together.

R. Harper - 1976 Yearbook
After Zeigler left, Parker and I worked together for 25 years. What marvelous memories I have of our times together staging most Harper/Parker Productions in the UVI Little Theatre. If I had $1.00 for every hour Parker and I spent in that theatre, I would donate every penny to restoring that very special space—and have money left over. Fond memories include all the late night sessions, polishing productions with wonderful, talented, devoted student actors, staff, and technicians. None of this would have been possible without our loyal audience members who still approach me on the street to ask, “When is the next UVI theatre production?”

These are just a few of my special memories of the early years. Throughout my time as a member of the UVI community, I cherish the close relationships I was fortunate to develop with my students in class and in office sessions, advising, counseling or just hanging out. I can still see those eager, smiling faces—and miss them terribly.

I am so fortunate to still live on this lovely island and often engage in University activities, “waiting in the wings” to be of assistance!  

Dr. Rosary Harper is Professor Emerita of Speech, Communication and Theatre.
She remains active in volunteer activities in the St. Thomas community.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Maxine Nunez

Maxine Nunez
I recall arriving on the campus of the College of the Virgin Islands in the mid-seventies and admiring the open, airy, stone facade buildings that lined the walkway to the centerpiece, the Ralph M. Paiewonsky Library and administration offices. Nursing Education was the first building on the left and, I am told, the first building to be erected on the relatively new campus. I was returning home to join the nursing faculty, feeling confident even from then, that despite our small size in number, we would have a strong presence and a respect that proceeds from a purpose, unwavering and loyally pursued. The rest of the buildings were obviously makeshift, converted for new usage, with the older configurations still convincingly noticeable.

The faculty was gradually growing in number, most migrating from the mainland U.S. A few of us who were born and grew up in the Virgin Islands were scattered throughout four of the then six instructional divisions. I remember when I first arrived- Ilva Benjamin (Nursing), Eric Blake and Marilyn Krigger (Social Sciences), Gilbert Sprauve (Humanities) and Orville Kean (Math and Science). Conversations about politics, civil rights, racism were in some ways unifying, but not more obviously so than Afro hair styles of varying shapes, sizes and texture. The Ideas and Issues forum (which we later wanted to rename Campus and Community) kept the social consciousness of faculty and student alike alive. I recall a colleague and friend, professor emeritus Paul Leary, telling me of my vocal contributions to these sessions. Another glue was the annual theatre, called the Harper-Parker Productions. The Little Theatre was a cozy place for our local turnout to Broadway. What a perk to have my reserved tickets waiting at the box office!

Maxine Nunez - 1976 Yearbook
The students reminded me of myself as a student. CVI’s students were a strong mixture of just out of high school and, mostly, working family members. Getting an education was paramount, and most were respectful and grateful that they could participate at this level. A few staff members, whether in academic offices or the physical plant, kept the place humming. Tasks and names coalesced and we knew exactly who and when to call for what reasons. For example, academic policy interpretation and enforcement were embodied in the late Artrelle Wheatly, who was the Registrar for many years. Decision making responses were clear and straightforward. 

Time passes and we remember. CVI became UVI and smaller became larger. I remember then; I live now; and generations to come will know what follows. Anniversaries are milestones and give us reason to reflect on a context — changing, yet somewhat the same and somewhat different for each of us, even though there is but one reference, CVI/UVI.

Maxine Nunez is currently a professor of Nursing at the
University of the Virgin Islands.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

John Lucas

John Lucas with his wife
Dr. Teresa Turner
In the spring of 1989 Dr. William P. MacLean, the Vice President of Academic Affairs at UVI, decided that it was time for the University to become part of “BITNet” (Because It's Time Network). He had become aware of wide area networking and its benefits at off-island conferences and meetings. I was then one of three members of “Academic Computing” and volunteered to find out what it would take.

I had come to UVI in 1986 from Oregon State University. OSU was connected to both BITNet and NSFNet so I knew exactly which brains to pick at OSU. After a postponement for Hurricane Hugo, I took a flight back to OSU to confer with Bill Ayers (their network engineer), and John Sechrest (their computer science lab manager). I had used the NSFNet previously at OSU and I quickly came to the conclusion that UVI should connect to the NSFNet (which became what is now called the Internet) rather than the proprietary BITNet (a project of IBM).

Upon return to UVI and convincing Dr. MacLean that we should join NSFNet rather than BITNet, I volunteered to write a National Science Foundation grant to establish UVI's connection to the Internet. I wrote the grant proposal and the Director of Academic Computing (Dr. Lynn Rosenthal) was the principal investigator. The grant was awarded, but we had a problem in 1990 that we don't have today: there were no Internet Service Providers in the Virgin Islands. At this time connection was restricted to educational institutions and defense contractors primarily.

Circa 1978
The grant proposal was based on connecting through the University of Puerto Rico. I had worked with UPR on an agreement in principle for our connection. Unfortunately, between the time of submitting the proposal and the grant award, Puerto Rico had an election. This resulted in the key personnel at UPR changing. The grant did not have sufficient budget for any available alternative connection. 

I was in a tight spot, and UVI was still not connected to any outside network. Eventually I received a phone call from a project manager from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) “Very Large Baseline Array” (VLBA) project: ten observatories in a circle across the northern hemisphere. NRAO was in the process of building one of these radio telescope observatories on the north east coast of St. Croix. They needed Internet connection to control the St. Croix observatory and wanted to share the cost of the connection with UVI. With this help we could now afford our NSFNet connection. The result was that in April 1993 became part of the Internet. This was the first Internet connection in the Virgin Islands!

Since retiring from UVI in 2005, John Lucas has done volunteer work at a number of schools in the Virgin Islands. Dr. Turner continues to teach marine biology at UVI.