Wearing a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, headphones, a backpack and a pendant of the Jamaican flag, University of the Virgin Islands President Dr. David Hall walked his way up and down the hills of the St. Thomas campus, while junior biology major Marsha Laurencin spent much of her day in the President's executive suite - in UVI's first ever President for a Day initiative, held on Feb. 18. The two recounted their role reversal experiences before a packed audience in the Neil Weiss Education Suite, on Feb. 21.
"This experience has added to my professional background even if it's just for one day on the job," Laurencin said. "I gained confidence in my leadership abilities and learned how to plan and execute goals with a management team - all while wearing heels."
Laurencin said her most stressful moment was leading a meeting of the President's Cabinet where she proposed that UVI develop a composting program. Throughout the day she also met with the Student Government Association, Sister's with Purpose and had a lunch meeting with UVI Board of Trustees member Edward Thomas. It was during her lunch meeting that Dr. Hall, in his role as a student, took advantage of Laurencin's open door policy to file a complaint. The problem: the campus shuttle was not running on schedule.
"When I saw the sweat breakdown his forehead I already knew what the complaint was about," said Laurencin in jest. "It so happens that I had an immediate solution so I actually got the opportunity of getting that feeling of what my decision making feels like to a student," Laurencin said. She informed him that another shuttle was approved just earlier that day.
Dr. Hall said that interrupting Laurencin's schedule was intentional. As president, his day never goes according to plan, so he wanted her to get a sense of what it means to be able to act instantaneously to a crisis.
Dr. Hall said he began preparing for the role reversal before he entered the classroom - spending part of the weekend leading up to the event brushing up on organic chemistry, one of Laurencin's classes that he was required to attend.
On the morning of the role reversal he was heading to class when his wife, filling in the role of his parent, asked if he had packed sheets, a pillow case and towels - as he had to spend the night in the residence hall. "It dawned on me that students have to bring a lot of stuff," Dr. Hall said, explaining that he depended on his "mom" to drop his linen to the Student Housing Office. "So that early experience even before arriving made me feel like I really am a student," he said.
"What really struck me in the beginning was how this forced me to get into a student role," said Dr. Hall, admitting that "the night before I was nervous." The students' reactions helped him to assimilate.
"I was so proud of our students," he said. "I felt like a new student and had all the nervous anxiety that news students have. Will anybody talk with me? Student just reached out to me in a warm and thoughtful way."
His day included classes, a tutoring session, study hall in the library, lunch and dinner in the Dining Pavilion, and a Zumba class at the Wellness Center.
Dr. Hall spoke passionately about the Independent Study lab where he dissected and studied lionfish.
"It was very intriguing," said Dr. Hall. "I got so engaged in that experience. I learned so much; and having master students and undergraduate students there doing the same thing was just another insight of what our students get exposed to in regards to research - cutting edge research."
He ranked the most challenging experiences - with the hardest first - as organic chemistry, Zumba and the video games he played with his suitemates in the West Hall.
"I got a glimpse of what students encounter as they go through the experience," said Dr. Hall. "Anytime you can interject something that forces us to get out of our routine and see the world in a different way, it is just very exciting."
Laurencin said she left office too soon. "While I had an early resignation, not by choice, I will continue to have a hand in projects and the leadership I wish to maintain at the university," she said.
Laurencin was awarded a $1,000 scholarship as part of being selected as the president. The initiative is designed to give students management experience, while allowing administrators to learn more about the student experience. The 'President for a Day' initiative will be held on St. Croix in the near future.
A 90 second trailer of the "President for a Day" initiative is available on UVI's YouTube channel www.youtube.com/uvivideos. A 10 minute "President for a Day" reality series will be produced and available via UVI's YouTube channel shortly. Pictures from the day are available on the UVI blog www.uvitoday.blogspot.com. Everyone is invited to subscribe to UVI's YouTube channel and to visit the blog. For more information, call the Public Relations Office at 340-693-1057.