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UVI Secures $5.3 Million NSF Grant to Bolster STEM Workforce in the Virgin Islands

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The University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) has recently announced a major financial boost for its science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs. A generous grant of $5.3 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will fund the “Navigating Home” initiative, a key part of NSF’s SEAS Islands Alliance and NSF Securing STEM Islands Pathways awards.

Focused on “Enriching STEM Pathways,” this NSF-sponsored project is dedicated to creating more opportunities in the workforce for recent graduates, particularly those from Black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, or other underrepresented groups in the geosciences. The program specifically targets graduates from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam, aiming to bolster the local workforce in marine and environmental sciences.

Under the banner of “Comprehensive Training for Future Experts,” Navigating Home provides a range of unique training opportunities. These include short-term (two to five months) and long-term (one to two years) job experiences, specifically designed to prepare graduates with the skills needed for a successful career in the island-based marine and environmental science sectors.

Dr. Kristin Wilson Grimes, leading the project from UVI’s Center for Marine and Environmental Studies, highlights the program’s role in “Cultivating Homegrown Talents.” She states, “This initiative not only offers Virgin Islanders the chance to build their careers in STEM fields right here in the U.S. Virgin Islands but also leverages our long-standing partnerships with local organizations like the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources. These collaborations often result in permanent job placements, aligning with the program’s ultimate objective.”

For those in the Virgin Islands seeking more information on this career-shaping opportunity, they can reach out to SEAS Islands Alliance Coordinator, Elisabeth Leerdam at [email protected]. This program marks a significant stride in enriching the local STEM talent pool, reaffirming UVI’s dedication to promoting educational and career advancements in the Virgin Islands.

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UVI Medical Simulation Center Plans Active Shooter Drill on St. Croix Campus

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The University of the Virgin Islands Medical Simulation Center (UVI MSC) has scheduled a comprehensive Mass Casualty Exercise for Wednesday, May 22, at 2:30 p.m. on the Albert A. Sheen Campus.

This drill is a collaborative initiative involving the Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services (FEMS), the Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD), and other local agencies.

The exercise, which coincides with National Emergency Medical Services Week, will simulate an active shooter scenario to improve readiness and response capabilities. Attendees can expect simulated gunfire as part of the drill, with VIPD officers portraying armed assailants to create a realistic emergency environment.

Charlene Navarro RN, executive director of the UVI MSC, highlighted the importance of the exercise: “This exercise is aimed at improving active shooter scenario preparedness for VI FEMS, students, and staff on UVI’s Sheen Campus, and the entire community. We are pleased that the center is coordinating this type of exercise in collaboration with FEMS, VIPD, the VI Department of Health, and UVI’s Campus Security.”

Participants will include simulated patients and emergency responders, all collaborating to demonstrate proper procedures for neutralizing threats and treating injuries. Special effects makeup and realistic simulations will enhance the authenticity of the training.

The Department of Health and UVI’s Counseling Services will provide on-site mental health support during the exercise, which is open to the public in designated viewing areas. The event will also be videotaped for future training and educational purposes.

The UVI MSC urges the public to adhere to safety protocols and follow the directions of uniformed personnel during the exercise. For more information or media inquiries, contact the UVI MSC at [email protected] or (340) 692-4101, or reach out to the public relations office at [email protected].

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New Research Highlights Alarming Trends in the Health of U.S. Virgin Islands Coral Reefs Through Microbial Analysis

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The once vibrant coral reef ecosystems of the Caribbean now resemble deserted landscapes, a far cry from their bustling state 50 years ago. This observation sets the stage for a groundbreaking study, detailed in the journal Environmental Microbiology on Thursday, which posits that monitoring specific microbial populations in the vicinity of coral reefs can serve as an insightful gauge of reef health.

The investigation, conducted by a quintet of scientists and published on April 4, zeroes in on the ecological dynamics of eight coral reefs near St. John, observed over a span of seven years. This period allowed for an in-depth analysis of the repercussions of hurricanes and the stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) on these vital ecosystems. The team sampled seawater from around these reefs—most of which fall under the Virgin Islands National Park jurisdiction—on 11 occasions between 2016 and 2022, in addition to performing extensive seabed surveys.

The data collected paints a grim picture: the study’s reefs experienced an average annual coral cover reduction exceeding 1%, while algae presence surged by more than 4% each year. The aftermath of hurricanes in 2017, coupled with the onset of SCTLD in 2020, exacerbated these trends, notably increasing ammonia levels in the water. This chemical imbalance prompted significant shifts in microbial populations, reducing one bacterial species while favoring another—a process termed microbialization by the researchers. This phenomenon accelerates the degradation of reef structures.

Furthermore, the study identifies the balance of microorganisms as a potential early-warning system for SCTLD, offering a straightforward method for assessing water and habitat quality around reefs. The proliferation of algae and the likelihood of future disease outbreaks underscore the urgency of incorporating these findings into ecological models and conservation strategies. The researchers advocate for a focus on the microorganisms at the base of the reef ecosystem as critical indicators of its overall health, suggesting a reevaluation of conservation priorities to safeguard these marine habitats.

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SpaceX’s Dazzling Display Lights Up U.S. Virgin Islands Night Sky

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The evening sky over the northern Caribbean was aglow with an extraordinary spectacle this Sunday, captivating residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands with a luminous phenomenon. The source of this marvel, which last year sparked widespread awe and a flurry of inquiries to the Consortium’s inbox, was identified as a SpaceX rocket launch.

SpaceX, the pioneering aerospace company, disclosed that the spectacle was attributable to its Falcon 9 rocket’s latest mission: deploying 23 Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit. This rocket’s first-stage booster, notable for its tenth reuse in satellite deployment missions, achieved a successful landing on the drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” within a mere 10 minutes post-launch.

The event kicked off at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 7:05 pm EST. A subsequent mission from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California followed, with another 23 Starlink satellites being launched into orbit by a different Falcon 9 booster, roughly four hours later.

These recent additions are part of SpaceX’s ambitious plan to enhance its Starlink satellite constellation, which already comprises approximately 5500 satellites orbiting Earth. This expansion represents just a segment of the 12,000 satellites SpaceX is authorized to deploy, aiming towards a staggering total of 42,000 satellites.

Situated strategically, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station is poised to regularly offer the U.S. Virgin Islands and its neighboring regions a front-row seat to these mesmerizing light shows. While last year’s event had many pondering extraterrestrial possibilities, the latest spectacle reaffirms the celestial wonders stem from SpaceX’s groundbreaking ventures into space.

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