Sunday, October 21, 2012

Juanita Woods

Juanita Woods

In 1977, I was hired to serve in the position of Counselor/Administrative Aide. It was a new and unique federally funded, Title III position designed to provide, for the first time, counseling services for full- and part-time students as well as provide administrative support to the Director of the St. Croix campus, Dr. Mary Savage, now deceased. I later assumed the positions of Director of Student Life, Dean of Students, and Associate Chancellor. After retirement, I was appointed by the then Governor to UVI’s Board of Trustees on which I served from 2004 to 2010. In 2009, President David Hall asked me to serve on the Inauguration Committee and, more recently, on the Golden Jubilee Operations Committee. Being affiliated with the University for approximately 35 of its 50 years has allowed me to work with so many wonderful students, faculty and staff on both campuses and to implement such a vast array of programs, activities and services that it is very difficult to articulate experiences that stand above all others. But two dates do: September 17 and October 23, 1989. These are historically significant for the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix. The first date was when hurricane Hugo devastated the island and it was exactly 23 years ago this week, specifically on October 23, 1989 that classes resumed.

Not to dwell on the initial isolation, damages to UVI facilities, personal loses, and total lack of communication; it is what took place between September 17 and October 23, 1989 that was nothing short of phenomenal. To this day, I marvel at the large number of students who not only came to the office to ascertain the status of the campus and their classes, or to officially withdraw; many came to volunteer with our clean-up efforts. Nowhere was this volunteerism more appreciated than in the library where thousands of books and periodicals, the entire collection, had to be aired and mold removed. Once our business infrastructure was operational, these same student volunteers and many more were hired to work alongside faculty, staff and workers deployed by the Hess Oil Refinery to clean up the campus, take inventory and help conduct damage assessment for insurance purposes. While the UVI family was devoting all of its efforts toward the resumption of classes, community agencies worked with us as well. The Water and Power Authority (WAPA) placed UVI on high priority, Public Safety agreed to honor student passes (a curfew remained in place after classes resumed), Chase Bank facilitated banking services on campus, laundry service was set up for employees, and FEMA approved the campus as a food distribution center. Never had I experienced such community spirit, mutual respect, collective work ethic, camaraderie, and yes, fun, in the attainment of a common goal as I witnessed between September 17 and October 23, 1989!

Juanita Woods photo taken in 1988
Our goal was not only to resume classes on October 23, but to also create an atmosphere conducive to learning and, as much as possible, an atmosphere of “normalcy” for students. The academic calendar was revised and some classes were rescheduled based on student needs. Although the tuition refund period had passed, UVI approved a 50 percent refund to students who officially withdrew; this amounted to only 117 students, a small number under the circumstances. Faculty made adjustments to provide instruction and test-taking for students who were health service providers, those called for National Guard duty, and other emergency service responders. Understanding that the vast majority of students were coming to class from homes and/or work with no telephones, electricity or water, (as were employees), the library, tutorial labs and several offices extended their hours and after special events and  academic forums, a light buffet was often served.  Later, I learned that the reason so many students remained enrolled was due to these amenities and their cognizance of the concerted effort  made by UVI personnel to provide quality service at a time when students were in their direst need.

Little did the University know that some of the same measures described above would be used six years later, in 1995, to mitigate the devastation of hurricane Marilyn to the St. Thomas campus. Special accolades go to President Emeritus, Dr. Orville E. Kean, for his leadership in hurricane recovery on both campuses.

Juanita Woods retired from the Associate Chancellor position in October 2002.

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