A university on the rise: Gee shares "big ideas" for WVU, its partners

In his first State of the University address on the Morgantown campus in some 30 years, President Gordon Gee unveiled "big" ideas to propel WVU and its partners forward as one cohesive academic and economic force.

After 10 months back on the job, West Virginia University President Gordon Gee believes it’s time to put “strategic planning into strategic action.”

In his first State of the University address on the Morgantown campus in some 30 years, Gee unveiled “big” ideas to propel WVU and its partners forward as one cohesive academic and economic force.

He announced the creation of a Center for Big Ideas, which will be led by former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton. The Center will bring together faculty, staff and students to tackle issues, such as energy, rural health, STEM education and arts and culture, that relate to West Virginia and the country.

“I cannot think of anyone who has a better grasp of our state and the ways in which higher education empowers lives,” Gee said about Caperton, who also was president of the College Board, which administered the nationally recognized SAT and AP tests.

Gee delivered the remarks, outlining the University’s goals and challenges for the next year, on Monday (Oct. 6) to the Faculty Assembly before its regular monthly meeting.

He acknowledged that the Center for Big Ideas would help leverage the University’s expertise to become a nationally sought-after resource.

“It is time we reposition West Virginia University as a thought leader,” Gee said.

Click below to hear the WVUToday radio spot about the State of the University.

“The Center for Big Ideas will ask the tough questions, and then the best and the brightest minds will answer those questions with solutions. That is the way West Virginia University will lead. That is the way we must lead.”

To complement the Center for Big Ideas and other new initiatives at WVU, Gee announced the establishment of a Business Engagement Center, which he described as “a front door for corporations.” That Center could facilitate joint research projects between WVU and businesses, professional development for workforces and assistance in moving products to market.

One University
To effectively reach beyond the campus, the University community must unite from within, Gee continued.

Ways to achieve “ONE West Virginia University” is by breaking down silos and eliminating bureaucracy.

Shortly after returning to WVU in early 2014, Gee, like other University faculty and staff, was asked to take a driver’s test. He asked, “Why?”

He learned that the university received an insurance discount – but the discount is small change compared to the lost hours of productivity.

“Guess what?” he asked Monday’s crowd. “No more driver’s test.

“I say it is time to toss out the rulebook. Higher education is buried beneath a bastion of bureaucracy and it is time to dig ourselves out.”

Last spring, Gee formed a bureaucracy SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) team to further streamline, simplify and standardize the University’s business practices.

“We must make this institution move like a ballerina, not an elephant dressed in a tutu,” he said. “And we must do so by working together, as one West Virginia University.”

Students first
For students, Gee announced the launch of Project 168. Its name is derived from the 168 hours in a week.

“Our students are in class a max of 18 hours,” he said. “We will launch Project 168 to develop ways to bring academics and professional success into the other 150 hours.”

Students will start their journeys in freshmen learning communities – communities that build learning around disciplines and specific interests, as well as communities focused on solving global issues through multi-disciplinary approaches.

“For example, an Economic Development and Entrepreneurship learning community might bring together people studying business and economics, engineering and arts and sciences,” Gee said.

Students would learn from one another through summer team-building experiences, built on the core principles of Adventure WV.

An enrollment management SWOT team was also developed this year as a student recruitment and retention priority. The team, Gee said, is examining recruiting efforts and the overall student experience.

“Students are the reason we are here,” the president said. “Knowledge is our gift to them. Inspiration is their gift to us.”

Gee also expressed a desire to increase the number of students at WVU by 7,000, bringing the total system-wide enrollment to 40,000.

“And we will not choose between growing in size and growing in quality,” he said. “We will do both. We will increase the quality of the freshman class credentials while growing the class from 5,000 to 5,500 new students.”

Invest in faculty/staff
The president urged faculty and staff in attendance to collaborate, take risks and think outside the box.

“Talented people must be recognized and rewarded,” he said, “and we must reward them in ways that fit their individual goals. If we have a one-size-fits-all mentality, we get a one-size-fits-all result – which is mediocrity.”

He recognized the new Launch Lab, a resource center housed in Hodges Hall that helps faculty, staff and students develop business plans. He also applauded the WVU Extension Service and its role across the state.

Extension is “a model that institutions across the country should emulate,” he said.

Gee wrapped his address by encouraging the audience to simply believe in themselves and the University.

He spent part of the year traveling to all 55 counties of West Virginia to reacquaint himself with the state and its people.

He was reminded that West Virginians are modest, but perhaps modest to a fault. He believes the same can be said about the University community.

Gee referenced recent brand research results that showed that 46 percent of prospective students believed WVU was a leader in research. By contrast, only 17 percent of faculty and staff felt that way.

In another question, prospective students viewed WVU as a “fun” school, whereas faculty and staff described it as a “party school.”

“We can no longer let others define West Virginia University,” Gee said. “And we cannot perpetuate definitions that are not true.

“We are not a party school. Let me say that again. We are not a party school.

“In fact, I celebrate that our students find balance. We work hard and we play hard. There is nothing wrong with that. We have a wonderful spirit on this campus that we need to embrace.”

Gee topped off the afternoon with a message about believing.

“We must let our aspirations soar as high as the mountains that surround us. We must be elite without being elitist. And we must build a world-class university, without ever forgetting that West Virginia is our polar star.

“I believe in West Virginia and West Virginia University rising. And I believe in each of you.”



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