The West Virginia University faculty and staff could see the future in the eyes of a student Monday afternoon, as they were introduced to Katherine Bomkamp, a sophomore whose invention could change the lives of people across the state and the world.

President Jim Clements celebrated Bomkamp, a political science major, during his annual State of the University speech to the Faculty Assembly as the emblem of the spirit of innovation, research and service at the heart of the 21st Century land-grant institution.

“Katherine’s story is the story of research – and the story of discovery – aimed at making a difference in the world,” Clements said “It is an example of the human quest for invention – it starts with a problem to solve and ends with a practical solution that improves lives. It is the story of our future.”

At 16, Bomkamp invented a prosthetic device that Clements said could eliminate phantom pain in amputees, and dramatically change the lives of thousands of veterans and trauma victims.

“The empathy of this amazing teenager, coupled with her intellectual curiosity, now has the potential to change the world,” he said.

Innovation, discovery and growth were common themes throughout Clements’ address.

With the help of Bomkamp and other extraordinary Mountaineers, the University has emerged as a 21st century land-grant leader, he said.

“We are in a unique position right now,” Clements said. “As other universities are cutting budgets, cutting salaries, implementing hiring freezes and closing academic departments, we are doing just the opposite.

Click here to view the entire State of the University address.

Click here for the text of the address.

“We are adding 100 faculty at a time when others are cutting back. We provided nice salary increases and fully funded the classified staff salary schedule several years ahead of the legislative target.

“We are launching $300 million in capital improvements.”

WVU has begun celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which paved the way for WVU’s founding as a land-grant university.

The Morrill Act made college educations affordable and accessible to a broader scope of individuals, including the working class. Unlike higher education institutions at the time, land-grant universities reached out to improve communities and make their research widely available. Yet land-grant institutions tried to maintain the level of research quality expected at their private or Ivy League counterparts.

Clements believes WVU has done just that, as it is redefining its role as a 21st century land-grant institution. WVU has not strayed from its emphasis on agriculture and local communities. At the same time, it has embraced a medley of modern research areas including technology and medicine.

The president announced the creation of new positions and initiatives that will further carry WVU into the future and aid its commitment to outreach. The University is currently recruiting 23 new faculty members, all aimed specifically at growing science, technology, engineering and mathematics research.

Two new specific positions announced by Clements involve the Extension Service. One is an associate provost for state engagement, who will lead the University toward its outreach goals outlined in the 2020 Strategic Plan for the Future. This person will advance three high-level work groups to create a system of coordination for outreach to West Virginians. The groups will be centered on three key themes: Quality of Life, Lifelong Learning and Economic Opportunity and Policy Development.

“By coordinating our work better, we will help those outside the University connect with us more efficiently,” Clements said.

The associate provost will work through an Extension leader, also a new position created by the University.

“This new internal structure is an exciting and essential part of our long-term commitment to serving our state with a more coordinated and interdisciplinary approach,” Clements added.

These announcements build upon the efforts already under way in Extension. During his speech, Clements applauded the work of John Kessell, the University’s new STEM education specialist.

Kessell is the first person to hold that position at WVU, and was hired as part of the plan to add faculty lines in strategic areas.

Since joining WVU in March, Kessell has wasted no time reaching out to youth and showing them they can have fun with math, science and careers in STEM fields. He has test-piloted several hands-on programs for children across the state, including a “Who Stole the Strawberries” forensic science activity and the designing and programming of robots constructed out of Legos.

The University is also looking at extending its service into the community by joining the public Marcellus Shale discussion through creation of the Marcellus Shale Initiative to serve as a “clearinghouse for the wide range of expertise and intellectual power offered by its faculty, staff and students.”

“We have many disciplines where our expertise provides objective analysis and science,” Clements said. “We must use this expertise to help our society.”

Geology professor Tim Carr has been appointed to lead the Initiative as interim director. Carr currently serves as president-elect of the Council of Energy Research and Education Leaders. Before coming to WVU, he was chief of energy research and senior scientist for the Kansas Geological Survey.

Clements called the opportunities and challenges of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale one of the most significant issues West Virginia must address.

While the University continues its outreach to the community, state and world, it remains as focused on another goal of the Strategic Plan: Engaging students in a challenging academic environment.

Clements also announced the creation of a Center for Seamless Student Success, which will provide advising in STEM and pre-health professions areas and aid graduate and professional students with attaining fellowships and grants.

The president also revealed a new Diversity Roundtable to promote a more inclusive culture on campus, a more respectful workplace, and ways to advance recruitment and retention of minorities in all constituencies.

That initiative furthers another goal of the Strategic Plan: Foster diversity and an inclusive culture.

In other news, Clements announced the appointment of leaders to several roundtable groups:

  • Provost Michele Wheatly and Chancellor for Health Sciences Chris Colenda will co-chair the Research Roundtable. This group is completing a detailed study of WVU’s research resources, strengths and the national research climate.
  • Four additional roundtables will be announced later this month.

The Strategic Plan served as a recurring theme in Clements’ address. The University community has marched ahead with the Strategic Plan, which is just less than a year into its implementation.

Clements acknowledged several growth areas for the University:

  • It is working to double its number of nationally ranked academic programs.
  • The College of Business & Economics and the College of Law have each entered the Top 100 in U.S. News and World Report rankings.
  • It has invested in 53 new faculty positions. The first 30 were in the humanities and sciences where additional scholars and educators were needed.
  • It has more than doubled the internal funding available for scholarship in all disciplines.

Clements and the University community also took time to remember one of WVU’s biggest supporters—Milan ‘Mike’ Puskar,—who passed away Friday (Oct. 7) and contributed millions of dollars to the University over three decades.



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