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).

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