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UVI Promotes Technology and Research

Sept. 25, 2005 – After a year, the University of the Virgin Islands reached a milestone Saturday as it wrapped up its first VI-EPSCoR Conference.
VI-EPSCoR, an acronym for the V.I. Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research is a program sponsored by the National Science Foundation that aims to promote the development of the territory’s science and technology resources through research, education, and outreach activities. The main focus of VI-EPSCoR, according to Meri Whitaker, the program's coordinator, is the biocomplexity in Caribbean Coral Reef.
Saturday's event focused on encouraging the many young minds in attendance to consider fields in marine science. The lobby of the UVI's Sports and Fitness Center was packed as Cecil Jennings, a fisheries biologist with a research appointment at the University of Georgia, spoke about his career choice in the field of marine science.
Jennings, a native Virgin Islander, said although we're surrounded by water in the territory, many of the local residents do not have an interest in marine science because it does not appear to be a prestigious career field.
"The study of marine science is relevant to all of us," Jennings said, adding that the territory – and, indeed the world – has more water resources than land.
Jennings, who had planned to go to college and become a football coach, said his interest in the marine sciences developed when he took a marine biology class during his senior year at the Charlotte Amalie High School.
He told the students that in the territory, we have a custom of naming things after people from the territory who have done well.
"Which one of you are going to have your name on a building for your contributions to the field of marine science?" Jennings asked, challenging the students in the audience.
Saturday's events also included a slide presentation of the territory's birds by VI-EPSCoR researcher, Jim Corven. Corven recently began a long-term project of monitoring the birds on the St. Thomas campus of UVI with funding from VI-EPSCoR and Bird life International and Birder's Exchange. The project has established about 24 monitoring stations around the UVI campus and will soon include various sites around St. Thomas.
The "Common Birds of St. Thomas" presentation showed on Saturday featured various birds on the island including the American Golden Plover, the American Kestrel, egrets, hawks, kingfisher, gulls, terns and various marsh birds.
Corven engaged in a lively discussion with members of the Environmental Rangers, who had attended the viewing of the presentation, challenging them to name the birds that they saw.
Alcedo Francis, president of the Environmental Rangers, said he was happy that the program was extended to Saturday so that the rangers could attend.
"This was important to letting them know of their environment," Francis said.
Other features of Saturday's event included a game of Marine Jeopardy, exhibits of coral reef research and poster displays of research conducted by students during the summer, as well as ongoing research.
Kersha Eddy, a senior biology major at UVI, said she conducted research to see if various local plants were effective at inhibiting fungal growth.
"Although my results were inconclusive, I learned a lot," Eddy said. "I intend to go to graduate school and earn a degree in immunology."
Kate Cassim, an exchange student from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, said she is currently doing research to assess the diets of Green Sea Turtles in captivity. Cassim, who is also interning at Coral World, said she would be comparing the diets of the endangered species at Coral World, Sea World and the New England Aquarium and compare growth rates.
"I've been here about six weeks now, and it's a great experience to study in a different environment – a culturally different environment," Cassim said, adding that the VI-EPSCoR event was a good experience for her.
VI-EPSCoR is made possible by a $4.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The life of the grant is over a four-year period. The V.I. government and several local donors have also contributed $1.5 million to the program to be used over the next four years. Various organizations and government agencies, including the Department of Planning and Natural Resources have partnered with UVI for the implementation of the program.
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