“We believe in every student,” says University of the Virgin Islands Provost, Dr. Camille McKayle. “And I think that’s what has resulted in HBCUs, such as UVI, overproducing students that go on to earn Ph.D.s in STEM, and go on to really excel in STEM.”
Students from the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) are beating the odds. With more than 85 percent of students in the Minority Access to Research Careers program, for example, go on to successfully earn their Ph.D.
From applied mathematics to chemistry, biology or physics, students at UVI can choose from a wide range of scientific disciplines as well as opportunities to benefit from extensive support.
Research shows that only 50 percent of U.S. students who start doctoral programs in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) -related fields complete their degrees.
On the other hand, Fourteen percent of UVI’s Bachelor of Science graduates in biology and chemistry go on to complete Ph.D. degrees and 13 percent complete medical degrees. Some, including Drs. Yakini Brandy and Dr. Sennai Y. Habtes, for example, return to UVI to serve as faculty and mentors to students in need of real-life examples of what is possible beyond their undergraduate studies.
“The success of our STEM students is not happening by accident,” says UVI President David Hall. “This is a product of our faculty members’ commitment to mentoring our students, obtaining support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), exposing students to and including them in their own research, and working hard to extract from each student the excellence that exists within him or her. As a result, our students are better prepared to go on to graduate work.”
UVI’s track record as a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in creating a pipeline for STEM students has not gone unnoticed.
With a grant award of $9 million over five years from the NSF, the University will be the lead partner in a consortium with North Carolina A&T State University, Fielding Graduate University and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, in creating the Center for the Advancement of STEM Leadership (CASL). The center is the nation’s first research and scholarship-generating program designed to examine the leadership that results in increased minority participation in STEM fields.
“STEM is a compelling area nationally and there are not enough students of color in these critical fields. For UVI to be providing part of the answer to this dilemma says a lot about this institution,” says President Hall.
Dr. McKayle, who is the principal investigator for the CASL grant, attributes much of UVI’s success story to the University’s high-caliber faculty and their “long legacy of bringing students into their research.”
Resources such as the Emerging Caribbean Scientists (ECS) program offer scholarships, summer programs, research experiences, mentoring, and supplemental instruction to UVI’s STEM students.
The innovative Bridge to the Ph.D. program, in partnership with Pennsylvania State University’s biology program, allows three to five students per year to travel to Penn State to participate in two summer semesters of graduate study alongside Penn State faculty. There, students learn molecular techniques applied to coral reef ecology and receive guidance on applying for Ph.D. programs. To coincide with research that shows minorities are more successful in educational endeavors when supported and encouraged by their families, the program includes hosted events for relatives to learn more about student work and its importance.
However, UVI’s attention to the STEM pipeline begins long before a student enters its college programs.
Operating through UVI’s Center for Marine and Environmental Studies, the Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service (VIMAS) swimming program introduces the Territory’s youth to the wonders of the marine environment; the Youth Ocean Explorers Summer Program provides a hands-on introduction to STEM topics for middle school and high school students; and S.E.A.S. Your Tomorrow (Supporting Emerging Aquatic Scientists) gives middle school and high school students the opportunity to explore marine science.
“Often when we get visitors to the University, they are amazed at all of the different things we do for a small institution in the middle of the Caribbean. We’re able to do amazing research in agricultural sciences and biotech. We produce amazing STEM students. We produce future leaders in the Caribbean in all areas. We have long been innovative, but we haven’t necessarily recognized it as such, or as we would say, leaned into it,” Provost McKayle observes.
“I would hope that the next time U.S. News and World Report puts out its Top 50 Innovative Institutions in the World or in the United States, that we are recognized as such,” she says