Three towering Mocko Jumbies almost brushed their heads against the ceiling of the Administration and Conference Center at the University of the Virgin Islands Wednesday evening as they greeted new students to a "mix and mingle" orientation event.
The gathering was attended by students as well as faculty and administration.
The incoming students, who hailed from Dominica to St. Kitts to New Orleans as well as the Virgin Islands, were treated to a table of catered hors d’oeuvres that included fish shish kebabs and sweet plantains wrapped in bacon while local reggae star Pressure’s song "Virgin Islands Nice" played in the background.
"Stay open to it all," said UVI President David Hall when asked what his advice would be for those students arriving from outside the territory. "Especially if you’ve come from a long way away. The Virgin Islands offers so much in terms of culture, and nature and people. Part of our orientation includes a tour to take new students to experience some of that. But my advice to them would be don’t stop there."
Physics professor Dave Smith, one of the Mocko Jumbies who strode commandingly around the room, encouraged students to learn the traditional Virgin Islands performance art form, which traces its roots to West Africa, as an extracurricular. Smith founded UVI’s mocko jumbie group but said there is often a paucity of students who sign up to learn through the school.
"If you have the perserverence, you can do it," Reams said to the crowd of new students, some of whom appeared skeptical. "Come try it out. You’ll know in about 23 minutes whether you absolutely love it, or not so much."
Communication professor and playwright David Edgcombe was also on hand for any students interested in getting involved in the humanities department. Edgecombe said he is working on a play, which will be staged in March, about St. Croix-born intellectual and "father of the Harlem Renaissance," Hubert Harrison.
Not all of the new faces at Wednesday’s event were incoming students. The university also welcomed Steve Reams, the new dean of the business school, who is a retired tenured professor from Texas Tech. Reams was previously a dean at A’Sharqiyah University in Oman, and has also worked in Bosnia and Kazahkstan.
Reams, who is new to St. Thomas, appeared to be reveling in learning about his new home.
"Makes you want to dance," said Reams as he had his first encounter with soca music at the orientation gathering.
Vice Provost of Access and Administration Nicole Gibbs said that official numbers were not yet available as to how many students have attended spring 2015’s orientation, but she said that the group is large in comparison to past years.
"We had no empty seats, which is not a bad problem to have," said Gibbs in reference to a welcoming ceremony that had been held in the university’s Chase Auditorium early in the day. The auditorium seats 80.
President Hall said that many exciting developments are in the works for 2015, including plans for the university to offer its first doctorate program by the end of the academic year. The field in which the doctorate will be offered has not yet been determined. Hall also said the university will develop complete online degree programs, at least one of which will be available by the fall semester.
Spring semester classes begin Monday.