In a country where higher education is being devalued, even as the cost of an education skyrockets, West Virginia University remains committed to its purpose of transforming lives in the state and the world, President Gordon Gee said today (Feb. 27).
“Every day our faculty, staff, students, alumni and donors are putting the power of that purpose to work,” Gee said while delivering his 9th State of the University address in his second term at WVU.
Speaking at the Erickson Alumni Center, Gee said WVU will continue to lead purposeful change to help its students, West Virginia and the U.S. forward at a tumultuous time.
While the country seems to be losing faith in the value of higher education, Gee said earning a college education has never been more important. He said since the “great recession” began in 2007, employment advantage for college graduates has grown, and the trend will continue as the country shifts from a manufacturing-based to a knowledge-based economy.
In Morgantown, WVU is improving students’ experiences through Living-Learning Communities, an approach to help build retention and bridge the gap between academic and non-academic life. Seven LLCs serve groups ranging from first-generation students to those pursuing engineering, creative arts or forensic sciences degrees, Gee said.
WVU Institute of Technology in Beckley is creating partnerships with the California congressional district that is home to Google’s headquarters to provide opportunities for students, citizens and communities in the technology sector, Gee said. The strategy will bolster the Mountain State’s ability to compete in the 21st century global economy, an area of concern because it lags behind neighboring states in STEM graduates, he continued.
At WVU Tech, as well as at Potomac State College Keyser campus, the focus is to build two-, three- and four-year programs that are glide-paths to graduate programs in healthcare, engineering and other fields, Gee said.
West Virginia University’s overall reputation is growing, Gee said, as shown by its rank among the top 1.5 percent of universities worldwide, according to the Center for World University Rankings.
“We are indeed moving in the right direction,” he said. “We have had great success changing the overall student culture to emphasize working smart and playing smart, in true Mountaineer fashion.”
Gee said WVU continues its transformation while it reinvents fraternity and sorority life on campus and can make WVU a national example of how to incorporate Greek Life into creating positive change through education.
“We are not waiting for the next tragedy or headline-grabbing incident to prompt our action,” Gee said. “Instead we have placed an immediate moratorium on all social and recruiting activities of the 16 social and social-professional fraternities comprising the Interfraternity Council, enacting a plan to review and strengthen oversight.”
Requirements include raising academic standards for eligibility.
True transformation will demand courage, imagination and unwavering focus, Gee said.
As an example of how those three traits have been at work, Gee lauded the more than 90,000 people who contributed to the “State of Minds” fundraising campaign, the largest in the University’s history.
“Our alumni and friends answered the call to create more opportunities for our students—and our state,” Gee said. “From new academic buildings to scholarships to research, the funds donated have purpose—and enormous potential.”
Gee announced that the campaign, which concluded in December, raised $1,218,886,505 , exceeding its second goal by more than $200 million, thanks to an estate gift from Don and Marcella Hoylman.
Overall, campaign donations established 844 student scholarships, 57 chairs and professorships and 227 funds to assist research efforts. More than $560 million was raised to enhance the undergraduate student experience and global education, with another nearly $227 million raised to advance the research initiatives of the University.
Two years ago, Gee challenged WVU faculty, staff and students to recommit to “advancing education, health and prosperity in West Virginia.”
Tuesday, he said the three are not separate issues, but “interwoven strands” that make up the state’s fabric, which WVU is committed to strengthening through:
• Collaboration with China Energy, which has plans for a natural gas storage hub in the state, and will bring more than $83 billion to that effort, a key piece of reinvigorating the state’s and region’s petrochemical industry.• Tackling heart failure, the most common heart-related reason for hospital admission and readmission. Heart implants and heart pumps, now an option at WVU Medicine, mean West Virginians do not have to leave the state for life-saving care.• Response to the state’s opioid crisis has earned WVU national recognition for broad-based charge against the plague.
Gee noted several University accomplishments in the last year, including:
• WVU received a three-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a next-generation High-Performance Computing Cluster, which will advance computationally intensive research in many fields, from drug delivery to genomics and astrophysics.• The Hesikell Award for innovation in international partnerships was given to WVU, along with our strategic partner in the Middle East, the Royal University for Women in Bahrain.• Traci LeMasters, an assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy, received an American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy’s New Investigator Award, to study the effects of inappropriate prescription medications on the elderly.
Gee said WVU would continue to fight against the threat of complacency, “the comfortable notion that we are just fine with the way things are.”
“I do not want this institution to ever become complacent,” he said. “We need to value unconventional thinking and pursue unreasonable possibilities. Change is uncomfortable and creates fear. (R)ather than succumb to a sense of security, we will take this occasion to reconfigure, recalibrate and redefine what West Virginia University will look like in years to come.”
CONTACT April Kaull; University Relations/Communications
304.293.3990; april.kaull @mail.wvu.edu
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