A respected mine safety professional from West Virginia University and the WVU health administrator who just might be the Mountain States best-known physician will be honored during Commencement events for service to their respective communities.
James Dean and Dr. Robert DAlessandri will receive the Presidents Distinguished Service Award for their outreach work over the years. The pair will be officially recognized during the Commencement Honors Convocation at 7 p.m. Friday (May 11) at the Coliseum.
That event is just of many that will make up WVU s 138th Commencement, which runs May 11-13. For a complete listing of events, visithttp://www.wvu.edu/commencement/.
The Presidents Distinguished Service honorees:
In the weeks following the Jan. 2006 Sago mine disaster that killed 12 menone miner who died in the blast and 11 others who succumbed hours later as the air ran out WVU s Jim Dean was asked by Gov. Joe Manchin to come on board in a new, temporary post to help make positive changes in the mining industry.
As the nation knows all too well, a 13th miner, though critically injured, miraculously survived.
Dean, who directed WVU s Mining Extension Program, wasnt looking for miracles. He was, however, looking to make positive changes in one of the most challenging jobs in the nation.
As interim director of the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training, a key component of the job was to address safety concerns in the wake of Sago and another fatal fire at another mine just weeks later.
At issue were those emergency air packs that reportedly failed at Sagoalso one-way wireless communicators.
Dean wasnt sure about those rescue devices, and wondered aloud if theyd be reliable in an emergency.
I dont want to give a family or a miner false hope,he said at a press briefing shortly after his appointment.There is a question about them working 100 percent of the time.
His unflagging honesty and overriding desire to simply do the right thing in his industry are attributes that definitely got the notice of WVU President David C. Hardesty Jr., who tapped the mining professional for the service award.
The Presidents Distinguished Service Award goes to those who provide exceptional leadership to the University, state and nationand Dean, Hardesty said, easily lands in all three categories.
During his eight-month tenure in Charleston, Dean implemented new rules that now give MinersHealth Safety and Training a larger role in certifying those wireless communicators and other tracking equipment for miners cut off from work crews and escape avenues during fires, roof falls and other emergencies.
He ordered a statewide inventory and performance review of those air packs while
also calling for higher standards for electricians in underground mines.
And in a key safety action, he successfully pushed for the installation of mine refuge chambers in state mines when escape isnt possible after an explosion orroof falla collapse of the structure.
The reinforced steel boxes are airtight, stacked with food, water and oxygen supplies. Such devices kept 72 miners alive in Canada earlier this year after they were trapped underground for 30 hours.
Dean is quietly proud of that work, he said, but he thinks his real mission is in the WVU classroom, where he tells young mining engineers not to let their integrity be comprised by the cost ledger.
Thats my standard speech on the first day of class,said the Rowlesburg native, who earned degrees from Fairmont State University and WVU .I tell them to step up and do the right thing for safety. I tell them to make a blueprint for positive change. I see caring people in both labor and management who are working to improve miner safety and survival. We can do this.
Dr. Robert DAlessandri
Just call himDr. Bob.
For 30 years at West Virginia University, Dr. Robert DAlessandri has been both an effective administrator at the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Centerand a tireless advocate for good health practices that can improve the quality of life for all who call the Mountain State home.
His television and radio appearances in the cause of that mission have made him West Virginias chief medical advocateand, perhaps, the Mountain States most instantly recognizable M.D.
DAlessandri joined WVU s medical faculty in 1977 and served as dean of the School of Medicine from 1989 to 2004. Most recently, he was vice president for health sciences here and president of the WVU -based Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, which is attempting to research a cure for Alzheimers disease.
Hes leaving in June to serve as president and founding dean of a new medical college in Pennsylvaniabut his direction here over the past three decades, his friends and colleagues are quick to say, has insured a positive prognosis of good health for the WVU medical community well down the road.
Dr. DAlessandri leaves us in an incredibly strong position,said Dr. John Prescott, the current dean of WVU s School of Medicine.Our educational programs sound. Our research enterprise has doubled in recent years, and continues to grow. Our clinical services have earned the trust of tens of thousands of patients.
And DAlessandris media appearances over the past several years might have something to do with that. He reached thousands as a weekly medical correspondent on television news programs in Wheeling, Clarksburg and Charleston.
HisDoctors on Calllive broadcast on public television also demystified the medical process for viewers across West Virginia and parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and Virginia. A specialist in infectious diseases and general medicine, he fielded viewer questions during the call-in show and hosted other health care experts to help him.
He also worked closely over the years with elected officials and policymakers to improve health care access across West Virginia and the nation.
One such partnership in the 1990s with U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.,
would lead to the eventual creation of the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, which is a key component in a multimillion dollar expansion at the Health Sciences Center.
Accomplishments like that, David Hardesty said, dont just happen on their own.
I have witnessed first-hand the very skilled way in which hes led with absolute integrity and vision,Hardesty said.
DAlessandri has said he simply couldnt pass up an opportunity to help create a medical school from the ground up. But dont look for him to turn his back on West Virginia. After all, a planned, 5-year stay in 1977 turned into 30 years. And his daughter and two grandchildren will still be here, meaning regular visits back to the Mountain State.
Ive become a West Virginian at heart,he said.Im still a Mountaineer.