From fashioning pink frosting roses to mastering Excel computer programs, UVI CELL students have done it all.
In little more than 10 years, the University of the Virgin Islands’ Community Empowerment and Lifelong Learning Center has expanded from a couple of computer courses to offering 50 to 60 different types of classroom courses, according to Caroline Simon, CELL marketing manager. It also helps link students to Internet classes at other institutions; at last count there were more than 500 online course options.
“It’s a huge growth in a small time,” she said.
To date, CELL has served about 8,300 students; 550 of them in just the last fiscal year, Simon said. Students range from adolescents preparing for college exams or making up school credits they failed to earn, to adults who want to enhance their professional skills, prepare for a career switch, or just take an enrichment course. Businesses and government agencies also use CELL for training employees.
Classes are held on both the St. Croix and St. Thomas campuses, and sometimes in the workplace, when CELL is partnering with an employer.
The precursor to CELL, a federally funded program called the Workforce and Economic Development Initiative, started in 2002 with a focus on computer training. Soon the university convened a town meeting, inviting the public to discuss what types of courses and training programs should be offered.
Simon said course offerings are still based on community demand.
“We’ve had tremendous success with our cake decorating class,” Simon said. “It’s a fun course” that attracts amateurs and home bakers, but it also brings in professional caterers and chefs.
Also popular is Real Estate Principles and Practices, which prepares people to sit for the real estate exam, and a course that leads to certification in Human Resources, she said. The center offers continuing education credits for several professions.
One of the biggest draws on St. Thomas right now is a new offering, the dialysis technician program.
“We have people on waiting lists to get into that course,” Simon said. It’s a seven-week training that prepares people to work at the hospital or in the newly opened dialysis center in Crown Bay. The first course started in July with 15 students. Another cycle will start at the end of September.
For several years CELL has helped high school students prepare for the SAT and ACT college entrance exams with a yearlong course that makes them savvy test-takers and also gives them an idea of the level of knowledge expected of a college-bound student. Simon said there are usually about 20 to 30 high school students in the program on each campus.
It has been underwritten by both government and private sector entities at various times over the years, Simon said. Some businesses receiving economic benefit tax incentives as well as some individuals have donated to the program, and it has been funded by grants from the Education and the Labor Departments.
Simon expressed gratitude for the funding, but noted “If we had more companies donating, we could handle more students …Sad to say, we have had to turn people away.”
The customized training courses CELL provides to territory businesses and agencies are usually in computer skills and/or customer service, Simon said. It also offers training for first-time supervisors who are moving from a rank-and-file job into a management position. “It’s a very big transition.”
While the center’s main focus is on training and education, it also offers consultations on OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) issues to small businesses, so they can catch and correct problems rather than be fined for them.
“It’s free and it’s confidential,” Simon said. “But you have to request the service.”