WASHINGTON, D.C. – Mountaineers have a heart to serve.
West Virginia University President Jim Clements carried that message to Washington, D.C., today (June 26), recounting many examples for a sold-out crowd at the 35th annual Alumni Luncheon on Capitol Hill: from a baseball team’s desire to help tornado victims on Oklahoma to a doctor’s desire to save lives to a teacher’s efforts to share the joy of learning.
With nearly 6,000 alumni living and working in the area, the WVU Alumni Association celebrates its presence in the nation’s capital and reaches out to alumni, friends and West Virginia’s congressional delegation at the annual summer event.
Clements reminded the audience that WVU touches the entire nation – even more than 1,000 miles away in Oklahoma.
He recounted the story of the WVU baseball team, which found itself away from home in the middle of a vicious, natural disaster in May. The Mountaineers were in Oklahoma preparing for their first Big 12 tournament when tornadoes ravaged the area just a few miles away.
“Moved by the tragedy that was unfolding around them, our players and coaches headed to Wal-Mart and purchased more than $4,000 worth of flashlights, batteries, diapers, towels and other essential items for the people of Moore, Oklahoma,” Clements said. “To buy the supplies, they used the money that had been raised for their team budget.”
Even though Coach Randy Mazey gave the players the day off after their tournament run was over and before their flight home, “the team had other ideas,” Clements said.
“Instead, they wanted to go to Moore, OK, where they helped homeowners clean up their yards and make sense of their belongings?.
“Coach Mazey and his team represent the very best that WVU, as a public land-grant university, has to offer — and that’s our heart to serve ? the heart to make a difference,” Clements said.
Clements also highlighted the University’s move to the Big 12 athletic conference, which he termed “another positive athletic venture.”
“Our athletic department is on sound financial footing,” he said.
“The transition into the Big 12 required a short-term investment to make the move. However, this is an investment that will result in a tripling of our conference revenues by the year 2015 compared to what we received in our last year in our previous conference. This will ensure that our Athletic programs continue to be self-funded.”
He also highlighted the difference the membership has made in other ways.
“There are many opportunities for collaboration and partnerships in this league – from the president’s and provost’s meetings to student affairs and marketing collaborations, faculty exchanges, research collaborations and so much more. ?
“We are learning ideas, sharing experiences, and finding new ways to partner,” he said, “and as we come upon the one-year anniversary of our membership in the Big 12, we are proud to be associated with some of the best universities in the country.”
Clements also introduced WVU student Rachel James, who was in attendance and who he called one of the “best student scientists in the country.”
A junior civil engineering major, James’ “research involves seeking ways to better predict delays in travel time, from things such as changes in traffic flow, road work and accidents,” he said.
“Rachel has an amazing combination of intelligence, diligence, character and humility,” he said. “Her commitment to gaining knowledge to help society is one of the reasons why she was selected as our 36th Goldwater Scholar — the nation’s premier science award.”
Clements also recognized Helen Holt, West Virginia’s first female secretary of state, who the University recognized in May with an honorary doctorate degree. Holt, who attended along with her son, U.S. Rep. Rush D. Holt Jr. (D-N.J.), received a standing ovation.
The entire West Virginia congressional delegation – Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller and Reps. Shelley Moore Capito, David McKinley and Nick Rahall – participated in Tuesday’s “Taste of West Virginia” or Wednesday’s event.
Clements acknowledged that WVU is facing a challenging budget year, but said the University remains financially sound and has a strong foundation upon which to build.
“The university has experienced incredible momentum over the past few years,” he said. “Unfortunately we are now in the midst of some trying times based on state and federal budget cuts and sequestration.
“However, we remain determined to move forward with our strategic vision.”
He highlighted just a few of the ways WVU has been strengthened over the past year:
- Set enrollment records with nearly 33,000 students across the three campuses this year, with significant growth in honors, minority and international students;
- Set a record for private giving, fully matching the Research Trust Fund. Also, donors have already contributed $629 million, or 84 percent, towards the historic State of Minds campaign, the largest private fundraising effort in WVU’s history;
- Is investing in faculty, adding 100 faculty members in the general university and almost another 100 in the health sciences;
- Entered the world of Massive Open Online Classes, or MOOCs, to provide courses to both residential and students from a distance.
- Continued to invest in infrastructure and capital facilities.
“It is important to note that these capital improvements are necessary for the future of the University,” Clements said.
WVU continues to be listed a “best buy” in many publications, and Clements said, “In order to continue to be an attractive place for students and faculty and staff from all over the world to come study, work and conduct research, we must provide a world-class living and learning environment – including modern, up-to-date classrooms, labs and student housing.”
He also noted “these projects have a very positive economic impact in our community and our state.”
Clements also highlighted the importance of investing in people, which “unlike the one-time outlay of a capital project, investments in human capital are permanent base budget commitments.”
“Over the past five years, we have invested more than $47 million in base pay increases for our employees, during a time when many of our peer institutions cut back,” he said.
“Unfortunately, as we absorb a cut of more than $13 million from state appropriations, we are not able to provide money to that pool this year, but are working with our campus on a re-tooled budget so we can try to ensure a sustainable, reliable stream of income to support a pay raise next year.”
“Even through these challenging times, we must continue to invest in the core mission of West Virginia University, and that is to educate and serve the people of West Virginia,” he said.
“We will not neglect one aspect of the University to support another. It all has to work together, and that sometimes difficult to balance, but it is important to achieve.”
Noting that the University’s Strategic Plan for the Future “has been our blueprint for working with the State to create a healthier, more prosperous, and brighter future for all of us,” Clements ended by showcasing three key innovators, who underscore several Mountains of Excellence in support of that plan:
- Dr. Jennifer Robertson-Honecker thought she’d go back to teaching high school after earning her master’s degree. She stayed for a Ph.D. and then she was hired as a teaching professor of chemistry.
- Geologist Dr. Shihka Sharma, who developed a unique research niche using isotopes to track water quality in energy-producing regions. Today, her work is providing unbiased information to the masses – a mission to bridge the gap between supporters and opponents of shale gas drilling.
- Dr. Larry Rhodes, a pediatric cardiologist and new chair of the pediatrics department, who helped create Bob Hartley’s Mountain Heart Camp 18 years ago. The camp is held each summer in Ripley for youths who are survivors of congenital heart disease.
“These three superstars at WVU represent thousands of others — our faculty, our staff, our students, our alumni, and our friends — who are finding new solutions, new perspectives, and new ways to improve the world,” Clements said.
“I cannot think of another place as committed to making a real difference as our West Virginia University community, and I am proud to be a part of it,” he added.
The National Capital Area Chapter of the WVU Alumni Association hosted the luncheon at the Washington Court Hotel. Proceeds from the luncheon benefit the John F. Nicholas Jr. National Capital Area Chapter Scholarship Fund, which provides financial assistance to students in the D.C.-Metro area attending WVU. To date, the chapter has raised more than $160,000 for scholarships, making it the second largest scholarship fund provided by an alumni chapter.
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