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Challenges, opportunities ahead for West Virginia, Gee says

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WVU President Gordon Gee delivers his fall 2017 State of the University address.
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(Editors note: A copy of the speech as prepared is available on President Gee’s website. A link to the video shown during the speech is also available at WVU’s YouTube channel.) 

Acknowledging the challenges West Virginia faces while emphasizing the opportunities it has before it, West Virginia University President Gordon Gee delivered his fall State of the University address during Monday’s annual Faculty Assembly meeting held at the Erickson Alumni Center. 

Gee said the state is facing “several interlocking crises” that include economic stagnation, an opiate epidemic, educational disparities and staggering health threats. 

If West Virginia is to overcome those crises it must focus on and work toward three fundamental goals, Gee said. And WVU must play a role in that work. 

“As West Virginia’s land-grant University, we exist to improve lives in our state, by strengthening education, delivering healthcare and advancing our citizens into prosperity,” Gee said. “Like all West Virginians we want to move our state forward as quickly as possible. But our quest for the promised land will leave us wandering in the desert unless we pause from time-to-time to confirm our direction.” 

WVU, in conjunction with Marshall University and the West Virginia Dept. of Commerce, has commissioned McKinsey & Co. to do that and to “search for a fresh look at our problems and pathways to solving them,” Gee said. The effort was funded with private donations, rather than state appropriations. 

The result, “West Virginia Forward,” has three objectives: 

·      Reinforcing the foundation that supports economic growth, including infrastructure, talent base and business climate. 

·      Identifying potential growth sectors in the state that will diversify the economy. 

·      Drawing a clear roadmap to navigate pathways toward a shared destination, a prosperous West Virginia. 

In addition to using the state’s wealth of natural resources to capture downstream oil and gas manufacturing, specifically in carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics and fine chemicals, West Virginia can support critical storage facilities that attract petrochemical and related industries, Gee continued. 

The state can also attract new, high-growth sectors like cyber-security, cloud services and data centers, Gee said. Tourism is an “obvious target for development,” he said. 

However, attracting any industry will mean overcoming workforce and infrastructure issues. 

“(A) big part of West Virginia Forward will involve working with partners across the state to improve housing availability, road conditions, access to broadband, access to clean water and obviously the health of our citizens,” Gee said. “I know this to be certain: If we can create jobs and the space where businesses can thrive, West Virginians will come home. 

“I personally cannot count the number of West Virginians I have met who would love nothing more than to return to their native state. So, we must work together to bring them home,” he said. 

For WVU, that means taking action, he said. Gee said he would commit WVU to focus on innovation and research, local business support, talent expansion and alumni outreach. 

“Despite budgetary challenges, we remain accountable to students by offering a great educational value and producing stellar outcomes for students.” 

Gee mentioned some of WVU’s accomplishments: 

·      For the fourth straight year, West Virginia University’s Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources has been ranked in the top 10 percent of all engineering schools nationwide for offering the best value for the money for undergraduate degree programs. 

·      More students and families are recognizing the quality education we offer and the healthier student culture we have promoted. 

·      During a remarkably smooth Welcome Week, the University system achieved record numbers of first-time freshmen enrollment – 6,224 across campuses in Morgantown, Beckley and Keyser. 

·      The incoming class also features higher test scores, higher average GPAs and more international students. 

·      In Morgantown, WVU welcomed the largest Honors College class in history, 921 students, even after raising admissions standards. 

·      Faculty researchers demonstrated where curiosity can lead through groundbreaking work involving rare earth elements, leukemia treatment, greenhouse gases, disaster-resistant structures, gravitational waves and many other fields of knowledge. 

·      WVU has created a center to support innovative, collaborative work in all humanities fields, where research funding has unfortunately declined. Leveraging endowed funds, the Humanities Center is “the perfect example” of the increasing importance philanthropy plays amid state budgetary challenges. 

Noting the reduction in state support for WVU – $38 million in the last four years – Gee said the University had so far been able to absorb the cuts and still maintain educational quality by making tough choices and emphasizing the core mission to advance education, healthcare and prosperity. 

“(R)eductions merely patch over the problems in our state budget, rather than solving them,” he said. “We cannot cut ourselves to prosperity, absolutely not. Instead of wringing our hands, we need to stack hands. And instead of slapping Band-Aids on our wounds, we need to heal them once and for all. 

“In this pivotal moment, we must embrace our strengths and tackle our problems in the firm faith that we can make a difference,” Gee said. “We are not gazing backward. We are not freezing in fear.” 

-WVU- 

pp/09/11/17 

CONTACT: John A. Bolt; University Relations/Communications
304.293.5220; john.bolt@mail.wvu.edu 

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