Gee, speaking Tuesday (June 6) at the 39th annual WVU Alumni Luncheon on Capitol Hill, said, "Today, we can either stack hands to create new solutions – or we can stand in silos and continue to struggle. I choose stacking hands."
The yearly luncheon provides the WVU president a platform to address key issues relevant to the University to a crowd that includes Washington, D.C.-area alumni, friends and members of West Virginia's congressional delegation. More than 300 people were in attendance.
Gee took time to thank the congressional delegation for standing with West Virginia and WVU on pertinent issues and for facilitating federal research, funding and programs over the years.
"From the opioid epidemic to securing miners’ pensions to championing health care research and development, our leaders have advocated on behalf of the people of West Virginia to address problems that are impacting West Virginians and rural Americans," Gee said.
Gee announced he would continue his summer tradition of traveling to several counties throughout West Virginia, and that he would spread the same message of moving the state forward.
One of the driving factors in turning the state around is to get rid of the negative perceptions that haunt us, Gee said.
He went on to list ranking after ranking and study after study that pitted West Virginia last in areas like physical, financial and social factors. He cited Forbes, which ranked the state last in a "Best States for Business" list, and the Institute for Legal Reform, which called West Virginia the least business-friendly state in the nation.
He also referenced West Virginia's college-attainment rate, which is also the lowest, with fewer than 20 percent of citizens age 25 and under holding a post-secondary degree.
And, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports that West Virginia has the nation's highest rate of drug overdose deaths, more than twice the national average.
But the mission to transform West Virginia is not embedded in simply shifting some numbers around.
"Our state is crying out for change," Gee said. "But change is not about raising our ranks in the polls. It is not about shifting numbers so we look better in statistics. It is about changing the dialogue.
"It means we must be open to change in order to create a new way of life. It means we must be consistent and exemplary in execution. Every action we take must be made with the best interest of the University – and the state – in mind."
Gee urged thinking outside of the box for fresh approaches to problem-solving. To address economic instability, leaders need to explore new avenues for revenue and market growth, he said.
To tackle the state's imposing health crises, such as opioid addiction, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, Gee called for creative partnerships and new technologies to play a larger role in health care treatments.
"We can no longer bemoan our rankings and our challenges," he said. "We can no longer think of our state as 'less than.' Instead, we must embrace our best attributes, use them to meet our needs and – most importantly – we must believe that we are capable of change."
For example, Gee highlighted one collaborative venture between WVU, Marshall University and the West Virginia Department of Commerce. Those three entities have partnered up to create an economic development plan to catalyze growth of the state's economy.
The project aims at developing a strategy and concrete initiatives to attract investments to the state, support local businesses and help create a more diverse and flexible economy that builds on the state’s assets and distinctiveness.
In order to transform West Virginia, WVU must embody its five core Mountaineer values, which Gee also emphasized previously at his State of the University address in March. Those values are service, curiosity, respect, accountability and appreciation.
Some $40,000 in proceeds from Tuesday’s luncheon will be directed to the John F. Nicholas Jr. National Capital Area Chapter Scholarship Fund, which benefits Washington, D.C. area students attending WVU. To date, the NCAC has raised more than $150,000 for scholarships, making it the second largest scholarship fund provided by an alumni chapter.
The event was sponsored by the WVU National Capital Area Chapter, Malene Davis, Capital Caring, WV Caring, Bailey Glasser LLC, Hamilton Insurance Agency, MVB and PricewaterhouseCoopers. In addition, 22 WVU colleges, schools and units have partnered with the Alumni Association for this event.
CONTACT: University Relations/Communications
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